IMAGINE being asked to think about the future of Glasgow, and help find ways to transform the city's centre. For our team at MVRDV – a Rotterdam-based architectural practice that provides solutions to contemporary urban issues – this was a dream job; a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Our team, together with Glasgow-based Austin-Smith:Lord Architects and other local specialists, were selected by Glasgow City Council to work with Glaswegians to help redirect the future wellbeing of one of Europe’s most fascinating cities. It is a rare privilege and a big responsibility.

Glasgow has an incredible heritage: a

dynamic urban history of ambitious expansion, transition and renewal that is evident today. At its zenith, the city was a global economic powerhouse; the shooting star of its period, the "Dubai" of the 19th century.

Contemporary Glasgow is still shaped by the legacy of the 20th century: slum clearance, population dispersal to new towns and peripheral housing estates, comprehensive post-war redevelopment, the imposition of urban motorways, the decline of heavy industry and the economic transition to a service economy. It’s a turbulent story shared by many cities in Europe and North America that has left an indelible mark on the environment, health and prosperity of cities and their citizens.

Glasgow must build on its achievements with a strong vision of its future as an innovative, progressive and attractive international destination. With this in mind, the city is at a pivotal point. How should it be in 10 or 20 years’ time? And can Glasgow's city centre be regenerated with a characteristically gallus and creative spirit?

Like all medium-sized European cities, Glasgow faces the challenges of remaining economically competitive, while tackling the growing health demands of an ageing population. Its city centre is characterised by vacant buildings, inefficient use of public space, car-dominated streets, lack of green space, low residential inhabitancy and traffic emissions. The banks of the River Clyde, meanwhile, are largely forgotten spaces.

The city centre should be the focus of Glasgow’s collective character and pride; its heart and soul. The city centre has to be for all Glaswegians, so that everyone can feel proud of it and connected to it – both physically and metaphorically. This is partly about accessibility, but it's also about creating a happy place that offers something for everyone, regardless of age, income or mobility.

I don't mean to paint a bleak picture of Glasgow. The same challenges face other great world cities. Challenges can be translated into possibilities. My own city of Rotterdam shares many of Glasgow’s challenges, yet today it is a lively city; and importantly, it's a place that works effectively for its inhabitants in terms of environment, health, wellbeing and culture, while also appealing to visitors.

Devastated by German bombing during the Second World War and once synonymous with urban decay, Rotterdam, the second city of the Netherlands, now has a similar population to Glasgow at around 620,000, and consistently wins awards recognising its transformation. Indeed recently, it has been called "the city of the future". In Glasgow we see the same great potential for making a bold change, and one we propose through the (Y)our City Centre project.

Our brief is to take forward Glasgow City Council’s City Centre Strategy, focusing on four districts – Broomielaw, Blythswood, St Enoch and Central, following earlier work by others for Sauchiehall and Garnethill.

Working collaboratively with communities, businesses, voluntary groups, local and national agencies, we have started to develop an emerging (Y)our City Centre vision for the regeneration of Glasgow city centre that is inspiring and pragmatic. Openness and dialogue are essential;the transformation of Glasgow's heart will touch people's lives, by influencing the identity of their city. It’s not our City Centre but (Y)our City Centre.

Among other things, the project aims to help integrate the city centre with its surrounding neighbourhoods by enhancing sustainable transport connections, reducing car dependency and creating more clean, green, healthy spaces – especially along the river.

It seeks to help Glasgow remain economically competitive, and to repopulate the city centre in order to create a vibrant, safe, family-friendly atmosphere, both in daytime and at night. We intend to foster a sense of urgency about the need for regeneration, so that recommendations which emerge from the consultation process are acted upon and delivered.

Glasgow city centre needs more inhabitants. Currently, only around 28,000 people live there. That is significantly fewer inhabitants than Dumfries: fine for a modestly-sized market town, perhaps, but not for the biggest urban centre of the Scottish economy. It is time to move forward with an ambition for a lively, convivial city centre that is both an attractive place to live and a welcoming place for visitors.

The city's motto is People Make Glasgow. We agree and the centre needs even more. So how do we go about repopulating the area? Partly, by making it greener and more attractive, so that people – especially families – who might otherwise choose the suburbs, will want to live there.

The more people living in the centre, the more businesses can thrive, the more amenities are possible. More inhabitants create a snowball effect.

For this be achieved, planning policies may need to be adapted to encourage more city centre housing and mixed use of buildings. Currently, we are taking advice from residents and tenants, housing associations and developers who know about living in central Glasgow. We’re investigating ways to support city centre living with new community facilities in the heart of Glasgow such as schools, health and social services, community centres, libraries, sports and cultural facilities.

Can we pilot new ways of developing diverse urban housing that will create a sustainable, walkable, neighbourhood whose land and buildings support a range of uses, and that attracts a diverse population, in addition to the students, young professionals and downsizing empty-nesters who currently predominate among city centre residents? Let’s create places for families to live; a healthy, safe and playful city centre for all.

At the moment, Glasgow's city centre is defined at its edges by the River Clyde, the M8 motorway and the High Street, and changes are needed to all of them. A reimagined urban motorway and road system, for example, will allow for a better integration of the M8 into the city. While the M8 no doubt gives great access for the car into the city it has blighted a wide swathe of central Glasgow. Let’s untangle the motorway spaghetti at the numerous junctions and reclaim gap sites and wasted spaces adjacent to the motorway for development. Think not of junction 19 on the M8 but of a new Anderston Cross that has been reconfigured as a place where people meet: we might begin by rejuvenating Argyle Street, with a continuous street frontage from Central Station to Finnieston.

The M8 viaduct at the Kingston Bridge is an incredible, concrete, cathedral-like space. Could this become a remarkable gathering place in the city – a sheltered, illuminated place for events, sports and culture that brings people together, rather than separating them?

Glasgow city centre is synonymous with its grid plan draped over its undulating topography. Can we consider more efficient use of the grid to enhance a net of pedestrian, cycle and public transport routes, as well as cater for car access? The city enjoys a fine legacy of Victorian infrastructure, notably a train network designed for a far higher population. This asset should be optimised in order to enhance transport infrastructure, improving all six city centre rail stations to make them attractive, accessible, welcoming places that are better integrated with the rest of the city. In the process, we would encourage people out of their cars and stimulate regeneration in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Let’s redefine the High Street, the city’s oldest street. Let’s create an urban park along the Clyde, from Glasgow Green to the Kelvin with new bridges and quays, enlivened by events, sports and activity on and around the water: a central river park.

There’s hardly any publicly accessible green space in central Glasgow. Let’s add small parks and street trees. The Dear Green Place needs to be greener.

Such complex long-term projects need strong vision and bold action to realise them. So let's not sit around. Why don't we test ideas out through small, pilot projects. We need to retain a sense of urgency. From extra-small to extra-large projects let’s design a city centre that works for Glaswegians.

MVRDV has observed many of the same challenges Glasgow faces today in our own city of Rotterdam over the last 20 years. Cities that share challenges can learn from each other.

Rotterdam is a port-orientated city that was bombed out during the Second World War, destroying its historic fabric. Mechanisation followed, causing high unemployment, social disorder and an abandonment of the centre for the outer city limits. There was no bold city-wide vision to address the economic downturn. The 1980s saw a rise in small-scale developments, but bigger issues were left unaddressed.

Recognising the need for urgent action, Rotterdam’s city council and planning bureau addressed these challenges through a social and urban regeneration strategy. A key initiative was to change the perception of the River Maas; as a port, it had once been the economic engine of the city, now it is the heart that underpins Rotterdam’s renewed cultural identity.

These transformations are immediately obvious when you scan Rotterdam's cityscape. Our firm, MVRDV, designed the city's unique Market Hall. Opened in 2014, this iconic building combines residential apartments with office accommodation, shops, restaurants and a fresh food and flower market, right in the heart of the city. Across the river, the port has been transformed with De Rotterdam, a series of new towers on the waterfront which contain apartments, offices and a hotel. The Erasmus Bridge over the Maas links the river's northern and southern banks, and Rotterdam Central Station has been transformed.

In between the big projects, the city steadily added more housing, in the process, trebling the population from around 20,000 to 60,000 with many cool, new initiatives started up in empty offices and industrial buildings. The city centre is alive again.

Rotterdam's transformation shows that, with a strong and bold vision, remarkable results can be achieved. It was recently named Europe's Best City by The Academy Of Urbanism and listed in Lonely Planet's Top 10 Cities to Visit in 2016.

Yet the regeneration is not complete; plenty of economic and social challenges remain. Rotterdam is addicted to cars and in many respects, compares poorly to other Dutch cities. Clearly, there is no room for complacency.

At MVRDV we have spent more than two decades looking for ways to make cities better. Our work is underpinned by an ethos that seeks to emphasise the unique identity of each town or city, and to make it greener, denser and smarter through innovative design.

Imagine if citizens, rather than planners, fully determined a city's development. Our Almere Oosterwold project, in the Dutch city of Almere, is a great example of how this can happen. Currently a work in progress, it will see the creation of 15,000 new homes and many businesses created within a 43 square kilometre area, along with around 26,000 jobs. Residents are being given the right to determine their own living spaces, with building plots available to be developed as according to the wishes of communities and individuals (though within certain guidelines). In return, each plot provides a share of public road, green space, and space for urban agriculture: so residents are expected to contribute to the development of their own neighbourhoods.

This radical new urban model is user-orientated, flexible, diverse and sustainable. It will offer maximum freedom for individual and collective initiatives and will grow organically over the years. Might something similar be achieved in Glasgow? It is certainly an idea that should fuel the imagination, helping to inspire a different approach to urban regeneration.

Another example is Norway's Bjørvika waterfront development, located right next to Oslo’s central station and between the city and the fjord. A dense urban masterplan, it comprises 200,000 square feet of mixed uses. The transport facilities made it possible to build all the major new offices with minimal car parking, avoiding hundreds of miles of car journeys and encouraging footfall. That's great news for air quality and urban vitality.

Bold urban planning can only work when it demonstrates a genuine understanding of the communities who live in the towns concerned. That's why we are working together with Glaswegians to help transform their city centre into a place that works for them. Glasgow is often praised for its human capital, and I have to agree, it is a city of many welcoming, talented and outspoken people.

Glaswegians deserve to have a city centre that allows them to realise their dreams; a city centre of which they can be even more proud than they are already.

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About the author

Professor Winy Maas is co-founder and director of the globally operating architecture and urban planning firm MVRDV, based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The firm's notable projects have included the Expo 2000 and the vision for greater Paris, Grand Paris Plus Petit. He is also professor at and director of The Why Factory, a research institute for the future city, and Visiting Professor at the University of Hong Kong.