Reflections: Creating Liveable Places

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Karen Anderson, Chair of A&DS, recently spoke at a public discussion linked to the Disappearing Glasgow exhibition at The Lighthouse. In this blog she reflects on lessons from the past for our future provision of housing in Scotland.

Disappearing Glasgow and Re-Imagining Glasgow, Chris Leslie’s work currently showing at the Lighthouse, is proving a welcome catalyst for conversations that will inform what happens in Glasgow and Scotland as a whole as we address ourselves to the challenge to create 50,000 homes to meet our changing demographics and housing need.

At a public discussion as part of the exhibition, Chris Leslie prompted discussion asking, ‘Are today’s solutions the potential problems of tomorrow?’

In Scotland today the hedge against this is to encourage mixed-tenure homes in both social and market housing developments. The best master-planned large developments go further and include a mix of uses and linked green space with an emphasis on pedestrians and cyclists.

Good housing investment designs-in opportunities for good living and there are great examples in Glasgow (where New Gorbals stands out) and elsewhere in Scotland. However these are still the exception as we prioritise numbers over the quality of places we create.

I believe to address these challenges we need to learn from these good examples and go further.

In our rapidly changing society we need to empower our communities to make – and mend – existing ones. This means creating places that support and nurture the communities they serve, whether in regeneration areas or new housing development, whether large scale or small. An understanding of what I’d call ‘place resonance’, the DNA of places that folks relate to and makes them feel they belong, is as important as any other factor. By this I mean a mix of everything from feeling your home gives you space for great living and having safe, shared-spaces to meet folks to how places are looked after and managed.

The Disappearing and Re-imagining films question what we are doing and flag the danger of being in a never-ending cycle of regeneration. The interviews with those whose homes have been demolished, provide insights into what matters to people and underlines the importance to our well-being of where we live.

This may seem obvious but it is something which can get overlooked in the game of numbers that often dominates the housing discussion. We must keep people and their lives central to our actions, responding to what they say and being more flexible in how we invest in places. That may mean doing lots of unglamorous things like clearing waste ground or dealing with anti-social behaviour as urgently as building more houses.

When we are challenged to build houses as cheaply and quickly as possible we must not do so at the expense of places that will stand the test of time. We need to invest for the long term. We need to build more flexibly and offer different types of housing to address current and future need. We need to invest in the things that make a place a community – creating shared spaces such as allotments, common social and BBQ areas. We need to support communities to look after their places through local ownership or co-ownership of the hard and soft assets we create. All of this is vital if we want to have resilient, sustainable places in the future.

Exhibition: Disappearing Glasgow

A multimedia exhibition and book ‘Disappearing Glasgow’ by Chris Leslie documents an era of spectacular change in Glasgow.

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