The Future of Glasgow
‘It’s time to admit that Glasgow is a dump – but we can reboot it.’ declared Philip Rodney, formerly a lawyer and latterly a feature columnist of the Times, in a recent headline (Times: 19th March 2022). Much to his surprise the column proved the most read of the day and received a vast amount of support. He had been expecting brickbats! Philip was telling his readers and the Probus audience that Glasgow appears to be a ‘place without ambition’. A recent visit to Sauchiehall Street made him want to cry. It was clear that the audience was sympathetic to Philip’s view.
Philip observed that the City’s mood was quite different from Lord Provost Michael Kelly’s day when ‘Glasgow was miles better’. Then we had the Garden Festival, the Burrell Collection opened and the City won the accolade of the Year of Architecture and Design. Now Sauchiehall Street has few household names other than Waterstones remaining embedded in a street of gap sites and derelict buildings from the former BHS Store to the burnt out ABC. ‘Who’s taking responsibility’ – ‘No one!’ Philip noted that the causes are multiple but the effects also are reflected in the City having an appalling life expectancy where 1 in 4 males will die before 60!
However, Philip didn’t want his talk to be a moan session, he wanted to look to the future. ‘We have to feel good about ourselves’ says Philip and there’s plenty to be proud of. For instance, the City is culturally rich being the home of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet. The music venues from King Tut’s to the Hydro are internationally famous. The Royal Scottish Conservatoire for educating and training our future actors, musicians and entertainers is rated fifth in the world. The Barclay’s Bank Campus on the South Bank of the Clyde will generate 5,000 well paid jobs. And, more generally within the City, the neighbourhoods of Dennistoun and Finnieston can be seen to be re-inventing themselves. Last, but not least, research shows that Glasgow is still seen as a good place for business.
But we can do much better. Philip compared the decline of Glasgow with the vibrancy of Manchester where they’ve coped with similar and worse problems. Manchester, in addition to dealing with the end of smoke stack industry, had to recover from the massive IRA bombing of the Arndale Centre in 1996. Here Philip gives credit to the leadership of Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein as well as observing the benefits Greater Manchester has been enjoying with having Andy Burnham as the Mayor. He is seen as managing and promoting the interests of Manchester very effectively. Factors which Philip believes created the climate for the development of Media City in Salford which we see daily on our TVs.
This focus on Manchester reflects Philip’s belief that the future lies in cities where about two thirds of the world’s population will live by 2050. Cities are efficient, reduce costs of infrastructure and transport and can be made sustainable. The $64 question for Philip is ‘How can we reboot Glasgow?’ Intriguingly he is bold enough to share 15 ideas which he feels could be part of the solution. There isn’t enough space to address them all but he starts with the need to make Glasgow a more attractive place. To deliver this Glasgow needs a CEO, a fully powered one, Formula One style, with a strong management team with delegated powers to make decisions quickly and effectively. Having a City Ambassador such as Andy Burnham should feature. It’s all about attitude, a reference back to Sir Michael Kelly’s time of ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’.
Philip doesn’t overlook more prosaic measures such as having a City strategy allied to key performance indicators, getting the City Council to become a facilitator rather than a barrier to change, finding ways to entice businesses and new start ups to come to Glasgow, promoting bolder town planning and quality architecture designed by signature architects and much more. It’s time to sell Glasgow as a place to live, work and play if we want to attract investment. In short, it’s time to find Glasgow’s Unique Selling Point (USP). Philip believes that Ray Kinsella’s Field of Dreams, in the movie of the same name, sums it up : ‘Build it, and they will come!’
There was a lively and opinionated response from the audience. A demonstration that Philip had hit many nerves. There was no shortage of ideas for tackling the City’s ailments. It was clear that members would dearly love to see Glasgow rebooted! Many thanks, Philip.