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Neighbourhood to watch … west end wins UK's top award

IT IS synonymous with boho boutiques, cosmopolitan coffee shops and Victorian heritage but pick a fight with its residents at your peril.

FRONTLINE FAMILIES: A campaign to preserve North Kelvin Meadow from development contributed to award success.       Picture: Colin Mearns
FRONTLINE FAMILIES: A campaign to preserve North Kelvin Meadow from development contributed to award success. Picture: Colin Mearns

After a string of scrapes with developers, municipal planners and leisure entrepreneurs, Glasgow's west end has received the award of best neighbourhood in the UK and Ireland.

Praised for its diversity, community spirit, physical appeal and commercial and creative vibrancy, it scooped the title after winning most votes from the 500 members of the Academy of Urbanism.

The academy said the west end "picked up the award for its strong community involvement, with over 12 residents' associations, and its seamless mix of culture, business and living", beating off competition from Dublin's new Grand Canal Quarter and Bradford's historic Saltaire to win the Great Neighbourhood 2014 title.

As well as a stroll through some of the west end's neighbourhoods and dinner in the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant, the delegation which visited the area in August, was impressed by its residents capability to mobilise when they believed the area to be under threat.

Specific mention was made that "well-educated members of the community groups play an active role in monitoring council policy and taking initiatives within their area". That was seen as acknowledgement of grassroots campaigns against everything from nightclubs in the local Botanic Gardens to preserving North Kelvin Meadow from development and retaining the Art Deco character of an A-listed garage just off Byres Road.

It praises the "strong civic presence that is being promoted from the bottom up", the "impressive way in which the networks of resident and community associations work together" and the "high proportion of articulate and educated residents in the area".

The academy is an independent body made up of individuals and organisations involved in the social, cultural, economic, political and physical development of urban areas. It is backed by major councils, building firms, architects and estate agents.

Its assessment summary, which was used in the voting, adds: "Arguably, the west end is a big tenement, as the mix of a typical tenement stair and the need to work together is reflected in the make-up of the area."

According to the academy, although there is a high number of students in the area, this is less of an issue than it is in many other cities, with large numbers of young people staying on after graduation while older people remain in the area.

The West End Festival is described as "an exemplar of the positive longer-term impact of cultural investment in cities", local cultural initiatives are "central to drawing the neighbourhood together", while there are also a number of artist and music studios, some of which have been starter units for successful Scottish artists.

The population density resulting from the characteristic tenements helps support thriving businesses, with "the good provision of, and investment in, schools and nurseries" also cited.

The academy's assessment adds while the district may be too big to be a coherent neighbourhood, locals identify with the wider area, whilst focusing their efforts on their immediate vicinity. It adds: "It is . . an excellent model for family urban living."

Kevin Murray, chairman of The Academy of Urbanism, said: "The west end of Glasgow's many communities, residents and businesses link together to create a vibrant, sustainable neighbourhood. It is an area that combines learning, an entrepreneurial spirit and eclectic cultural activity, sustained by diverse and committed residents. It is a deserving winner."

Ann Laird, of the Friends of Glasgow West, who has been at the forefront of many campaigns in the area, added: "This award just shows the contribution the unique character of the west end to the cultural and economic vitality of Glasgow. Other areas are rightly benefiting from the investment flowing from the Commonwealth Games but the west end still requires investment and that shouldn't be neglected."

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