FOR many years, I had a flat in Glasgow's Merchant City, a couple of streets from George Square.

I used to fall asleep to the companionable sound of bar tenders tipping empty bottles into recycling bins beneath our windows. A couple of hours later I’d be woken by a sozzled opera singer, wending his way home along Ingram Street and treating us to arias from Verdi and Puccini.

I’d never lived anywhere like it, and even though I am now happily ensconced in the country, I miss the buzz and beauty of Glasgow’s majestic city centre. Yet there are some things I don’t pine for. Not long after I arrived, an independent grocer set up business, offering all the fruit, veg and granary loaves you’d ever need. Sadly, he didn’t last long, driven out by the proliferation of micro-supermarkets. Soon it became harder to find a bag of red lentils than a magnum of champagne or a state of the art sound system.

Children were as rare as ospreys. You’d hear the purring of a Lexus as it idled at the lights, and at weekends the squealing of revellers tottering from club to club. But hardly ever did I see, let alone hear, a youngster. On our floor there were more French pugs than prams.

The centre of Glasgow, with its high-end shops, restaurants, bars, and penthouse flats, prided itself on its glamour. Yet by the time we left, swathes of it had been turned into soulless student-land. This ever-shifting community mirrored the wider picture: people living in self-contained pods, barely connecting with anyone else.

I never knew the names of our next door neighbours; I couldn’t even have picked them out in an identity parade. As became increasingly apparent, you might have every extravagance money can buy within a five-minute walk, but painfully absent was a sense of community.

The pandemic has highlighted a long-brewing problem. When shop and café shutters come down, students flee and the elderly retreat indoors, the centre becomes ghostly: a neighbourhood without a pulse.

This unhealthy trend has not gone unnoticed. In recognition of the people-shaped hole at its heart, Glasgow City Council has devised a long-term plan to revivify the centre. Its Strategic Development Framework (SDF) sets out enlightened proposals aimed at regenerating six areas of the city, including what you might call the dead centre.

For this zone, as with others, the aim is to transform it into a pedestrian-friendly and family oriented destination for day trips. At the same time the council wants to repopulate it, thereby making the area more appealing to residents who want to live there fully, rather than treat their flat as a bunkhouse. Along with initiatives to promote walking and cycling, and to reconnect the centre with surrounding districts, the hope is that by 2050 its population will have doubled.

No-one will miss the irony of trying to attract families back to an area that was once renowned for some of the highest-density housing in Europe. The demolition of overcrowded slums in the post-war era was seen as tackling disease and deprivation. Instead, the solution – tower blocks and housing schemes pushed to the outskirts – created arguably even worse problems. Meanwhile, the centre languished.

It was this sort of short-sighted urban planning, which messed with people’s lives, that the writer Jane Jacobs tore into. Her classic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities – published in 1961 but as fresh as today’s newspaper – was a salvo against dehumanising architecture and development. When it came out, it was immediately understood, she said, by what she calls “foot people”: residents who either prefer to get around on foot, or wish they could ditch the car.

Jacobs started out as a newspaper reporter, although she married an architect who, she wrote, taught her what she needed to become an architectural writer. That her views became so influential, despite her having no authority other than a clear mind and good taste, points to the obvious truth. Ordinary people instinctively know what makes a city tick: what works and what is doomed from the start.

You don’t need a degree in urban planning to see that concrete wastelands, featureless parks or pigeon-hole flats in the sky are a recipe for misery. Or that well-designed green spaces allowing people to breathe completely change the mood and potential of a district. What Scotland needs right now is our own Jane Jacobs, to articulate the city dweller’s view.

The novelist John Cheever understood how hard it could be to pinpoint the problem. In The Wapshot Chronicle he describes a fictional scene: “North of the park you come into a neighbourhood that seems blighted – not persecuted but only unpopular, as if it suffered acne or bad breath, and it has a bad complexion – colorless and seamed and missing a feature here and there.”

Most of us who know Glasgow – indeed almost any city in the world – could point to places this perfectly fits. Now, it seems Glasgow’s leaders are intent on fixing the problems previous generations of developers helped create. I wish them well. But, unfortunately, there are factors to be considered which are beyond the control of any planner.

The sight of the Rangers mob overwhelming George Square last weekend was disturbing on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. But in terms of attracting long-term residents to the centre, it highlights one reason why people feel anxious about raising a family here. Quite simply, it does not always feel safe. Drastically reducing traffic, planting leafy walkways or creating pedestrian precincts are all admirable, but if mobs can turn the place into a temporary war-zone in an instant, its appeal evaporates.

Quite how to address this is for others to consider, but if Glasgow city centre’s transformation is to succeed then solutions to such wildcat problems must be factored into its vision. It sounds daunting, but it is not necessarily an impossible task.

Jane Jacobs believed that, “Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”

I’m no expert, but that sounds like Glasgow to me.

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