GLASGOW needs to be remodelled. On this, almost everyone from the public through to urban designers agrees. The city needs to be more walkable, greener, more liveable, more attractive to tourists. It needs to fill up its vacant spaces and empty wastelands. It needs to populate its city centre with a wider demographic, and create a truly 24-hour life city. It needs to make the Clyde and its quays the kind of centre point, the public heart, that rivers provide in so many other European cities. Abandoned lanes need to be turned into thriving hubs for restaurants, bars, artists and entrepreneurs.

As the Sunday Herald reported exclusively last week, Susan Aitken - the SNP politician, tipped to take over as leader of Glasgow City Council if she ousts Labour, as suspected, in May's local elections - wants to see the city become the next Barcelona, Berlin of Copenhagen. Some big changes are already being planned through the Glasgow City Centre Districts Regeneration Framework. Currently leading this vision are Winy Maas, architect at the innovative Rotterdam-based MVRDV studio, and Graham Ross of Austin Smith Lord, Glasgow-based architects. They speak of a Glasgow in which a “great linear park” might run along the Clyde, in which wasteland and vacant spaces are put to use, in which there are markets, street food festivals, buzzing city lanes.

But, they point out, this is not just their vision. Key to creating it are the people of Glasgow. This is, and has been, about consulting Glaswegians for big ideas, in a collective brainstorming and engagement process. Ross says: “The key thing has been engaging with Glaswegians, the local communities - and the passion that Glaswegians have and that gallusness and creativity, is something we’re really trying, through the process, to be faithful to. We want to come up with a distinctively Glaswegian response to the issues.”

Many changes are planned, and most urban designers are in agreement about what needs to happen, though not necessarily how. Ideas are coming from many places: from the urban designers involved in the regeneration strategy, from other architects, and from the communities themselves. Here are a few of the big ideas, some of which are already in the pipeline, and others of which are still just dreams yet to be fleshed out. This is just a taste of the Glasgow to come.


Something needs to be done about the Clyde. During recent consultations with Glaswegians, says Graham Ross of Austin Smith Lord, the river front was the number one issue that was raised. “Everyone,” he says, “relays their own anecdote on other cities where the river becomes a natural gathering place rather than a place which divides.” Among the challenges is making sure that people can get to the water’s edge and along the river, since the city is designed for traffic and cars rather than walking. The current strategy will aim to create “a city which is highly walkable” and in which “people are enabled to get right from the city centre down to the water’s edge in a far more intuitive, more pleasant and safer environment.” Once they get there, Ross says “there may be bars, restaurants, trim trails and activities on both banks”.

One of the ideas being floated is of a “great, linear park” along the Clyde, stretching from Glasgow Green to the Riverside Museum and then up the Kelvin to Kelvingrove Park. “Why not,” says Ross, “have that continuous public open space with different points for cultural events, a playful destination for young and old, a joyful place where people gather and a natural place to congregate? We feel in Glasgow there’s scope to use the different character that you’ve got through Glasgow Green, the historic quay, out to the docks and the harbour to really create something that is quite a distinct experience.”

Greener Glasgow

Winy Maas, the innovative Rotterdam-based architect that Glasgow City Council brought in to bring some international-perspective on the city centre strategy, says making Glasgow greener is a big aim. “To be honest,” he says, “I think the city centre is rather ungreen. There is a relatively low amount of trees, lawns and parks, compared to other cities.” Maas sees a range of possible approaches to change all this. “You could do it in a grand manner, dedicate Broomielaw to be a park instead of buildings. Or you could do it in a more diversified way, which may be more ideal.” He describes this as the “pocket parks method”, where small green areas are opportunistically dotted across the city. However, Maas’s most favoured greening site is also the “river front park”. “It could,” he says, “work if you manage to have another kind of traffic system. But there’s a lot of resistance to that, so I don’t know yet when this would happen.”

take risks, be bold

Winy Maas is keen to test some ideas out as soon as possible. “It would be great if on one Friday you could decide to close the quay to traffic and to simply organise a market or pop festival. Just do it and then see what the troubles are. Are they really that big, or not?” He describes this approach as a kind of “action planning”. “It’s making fun with it and escaping from lethargy.”

He observes that all too often, when he asks why certain changes have not happened, the rain is cited as a reason. “It is like an umbrella for complaints, for hiding yourself behind.” Or, he notes, the economy is cited. “The discussion should be: How can we break through this lethargy? What are the blockages? Is there a lack of courage among some leaders?”

He is, however, enormously positive about the city and its future. “The good thing about Glasgow is that it has space, and a certain kind of humour. You have a fantastic First Minister. You have the attention of the world at the moment. Use this moment please … And I can guarantee you that I can make you streets which you will love even during the rain.”

M8 makeunder

The spaces under or around the M8, says Graham Ross, are ripe with possibility. “You have, under the M8 viaduct, one of the largest covered spaces that is publicly accessible within the city. There are significant restrictions with respect to what you can accommodate under motorway infrastructure but we want to explore whether it’s possible to create an enclosure for arts or cultural events, or perhaps sports courts and skate-boarding.”

Also a key target is Anderston Cross. “Many people,” says Ross, "just see it as Junction 19 of the M8. We want to change their mind sets and make them see it as New Anderston Cross, a piece of city. It’s a key connection between Finnieston and Anderston, which are both going through regeneration. Let’s physically connect that back into the city centre, and try to encourage pedestrian access. Let’s redefine and reimagine it.”

City Lanes

Urban designer Willie Miller describes Glasgow city centre’s lane and alleyways and streets as being “almost like the yin and yang of the city centre”. “Buchanan Street is one of the most important retail streets in the country, but the lanes that come off that have a very different atmosphere”. Miller has been the lead designer on a new strategy for the city lanes which is about to go out to public consultation. What he and his team are trying to create, he says, “is the sort of thing that Melbourne and a lot of cities in the United States have managed to do very well”.

No longer, he says, will the lanes be like great long rubbish bin depositories and sites of anti-social behaviour. “One of the first things people talk about when they think about the lanes is rubbish bins and rough sleeping and drug-taking. The council have done pretty well with that. There’s already a pilot scheme for changing the way that the recycling and bins strategy works in the city centre, and that’s come out of the work we did.”

Instead the lanes will be full of artists, designers and entrepreneurs. “One of the things that was of great interest to us was people making things, and what that does to the atmosphere of the city. We felt the lanes should contribute to the economic prosperity of the city, which does mean people working in them as well as eating and drinking in them.”

Tradeston Revived

David Ross, architect at Keppie Design architecture studio in Glasgow, has long held a dream that Tradeston should be at the heart of regeneration in the city. Up until now, he observes, regeneration has progressed in many areas, yet Tradeston, so close to the city centre, remains neglected. “The city,” he says, “needs to regenerate that part. It’s pivotal because it’s reconnecting the Southside back across the river.”

Ross’s ideas for Tradeston are not high-tech or futuristic, but, rather revolve around recreating the kind of community the area had before the slums were cleared, with shops and pubs and cafes, and a tenement style of living. “They didn’t knock all these things down because the mechanism for tenement living was inappropriate. They were knocked down because the social conditions weren’t good. Now if you look at Lauriston you see award-winning design developments for social housing and they’re all based on a tenement model. There’s a reason why we’re going back to it – it’s because that’s what people are comfortable with and those communities are really persuasive.”

He believes that Tradeston should represent “an open goal” for any Glasgow City Council administration. “It’s lain there dormant and under-appreciated for probably 25 years. Yet it’s got a world-class Charles Rennie Mackintosh building at the heart of it and a number of different positive attributes.”

Glasgow City Council, he observes, have already made changes that should make it easier to develop – changing, for instance, the planning zoning. Other barriers, he says, still exist – like the “multiple nature of small ownership in these blocks”. However, he notes, “There’s enough emerging developer interest in the area. There’s definitely is a different mood about the area in the last year, than perhaps five or 10 years ago.”

Filling the empty spaces

Glasgow’s wastelands and vacant spaces aren’t just problems, according to Winy Maas, they’re potential. “At the moment,” he observes, “they give a very negative feeling to Glasgow, especially at night. You don’t feel safe.” However, it should be seen as an opportunity. Not so many cities, he points out have these kind of vacancies around their city centre. “You can do a lot with that space, you could intensify your city beautifully. It’s my dream to seize some of these elements for temporary use soon, to try to test different pieces on that.” One of his plans is that an inventory be made of all these spaces so it’s possible to see both how many people could be housed there, or what their potential might be.

Re-occupying empty homes

In Glasgow, a year ago, there were around 1,900 long-term empty properties. Since then the Glasgow Shared Services Empty Homes Project has already helped bring 200 of them back into use. It is aiming to bring around 25 per cent to 30 per cent them back into use over a five-year period. Adam Lang, Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland, a partner in the project, says: “Bringing long-term empty properties back into use is part of the answer to our housing crisis. The approach that is being taken in Glasgow recognises that empty homes are not just contributing to the housing shortage but cause significant problems for communities as well.”