Glasgow’s miles better

From an Industrial Giant to a City of Creativity? The Transformation of Urban Space 1950–2000

At the end of the great post-war boom, the western industrialized nations were seized by profound socio-economic changes that resulted in the migration of entire branches and industrial sectors What was left behind in the cities, however, were production facilities and transport infrastructures that had lost their function. This project looks at the processes in which these dead spaces – which stood as markers of the decline and economic collapse of entire regions – were reclaimed. Many of these areas soon experienced a renaissance, becoming a canvas for visions of the future sponsored by local government administrations and businesses as well as citizens’ action groups. Old factories, freight yards, and port facilities were turned into centers for technology, media, and culture as well as recreational areas. Sometimes the old structures and buildings were retained as a backdrop, but mostly they just disappeared.

This study will analyze these transformation processes by looking at the industrial Scottish port city of Glasgow. Port cities are particularly interesting in terms of re-urbanization, not the least because the European waterfronts played host to flagship projects such as the London Docklands or the “Hafencity” in Hamburg. Waterfront locations offer a great deal of visibility, allowing iconic architecture to project the message of a successful urban renaissance out into the public. At the same time, these port cities are also hubs within the global movement of goods. The “container revolution”, the concentration of the flow of goods, and the construction of even larger ships played a substantial role in the structural changes that occurred in the 1970s. Moreover, during industrialization, these port cities often developed into clusters of heavy industry which were especially hard hit by the transformation in the production regime. Glasgow, which was the heart of the western Scottish industrial belt for a long time and its window to the world, is thus ideal as a case study because key developments intersected within this microcosm – which can be empirically observed – that substantially contributed to the structural break “after the boom”.

Reorganization in terms of urban space and functional structures was reflected in a re-calibrated notion of “urbanity”. The “center” was upgraded over the periphery and today’s dominant formula of a “creative city” was born. In the person of Charles Landry, Glasgow played an important role in the development of this concept and, as a case study, it can be used to historicize one of the key maxims in today’s urban politics.