Glasgow’s North-East City Centre can be a bit overlooked compared to the South-West, often considered the ‘real’ centre. The North-East is where Glasgow started – but the four districts in this part of the city have changed significantly since then, with much physical heritage erased and quality of place diminished. The area got clearly disconnected from the City Centre and displays stark contrasts in profile, programming and performance. The District Regeneration Frameworks for Districts Cowcaddens, Townhead, the Learning Quarter and the Merchant City aim to bring both halves of the city centre together to achieve synergies by planning holistically. The North-Eastern Districts present an opportunity for ‘breathing space’ for a City Centre to adapt to the needs of the 21st century and beyond: an area that is people-focussed, productive, healthy and thriving, and offers substantial new space to live - complementing the existing ‘core City Centre’ with a fresh, live, enriching and distinctive place-making.
Glasgow’s District Regeneration Frameworks (DRFs) set strategic high-level frameworks for the physical, social and economic development of the city for the next ten years. In 2020, Studio for New Realities, in collaboration with Glasgow-based Austin-Smith:Lord and a team of specialists, was appointed by Glasgow City Council to prepare the DRFs for city centre districts Cowcaddens, Townhead, the ‘Learning Quarter’ and the Merchant City. Studio for New Realities acted as the lead for urban design and the programmatic strategy, considering quality of use as the starting point and driving force for the strategy and all proposals. The strategy takes a holistic, multi-layered approach with a package of interventions that vary in size, and which jointly contribute to the 'upgrade' to a more liveable, attractive, competitive and sustainable centre for all Glaswegians. The strategy and proposals are outlined in a set of user-friendly and action-driven handbooks for change.
The DRFs are an important part of the City Centre Strategy which aims to deal with both the legacy of recurring episodes of bold reinvention and urgent renewal in recent history and the pressing issues of today and tomorrow. How Glasgow City Centre performs is of local, regional and national importance. If we are to realise Glasgow City Centre’s potential, a joined up approach is needed to develop a resilient and distinctively local response to the global challenges we are facing; including climate change, post-Covid, and post-Brexit. This also includes addressing broader challenges to quality of life and well-being, such as inherited inequalities in terms of health, housing and economic prospects, work to deliver environmental and social justice and ensure a transition to a regenerative, circular, decarbonised, climate neutral economy. These social, ecological and economic themes need careful coordination between the different scales, in order to translate them into strategic and realistic interventions per district and work towards an integrated development of the North-East, that all Glaswegians can benefit from.
The first DRFs for the Broomielaw, St. Enoch, Central and Blythswood neighborhoods were previously prepared by Austin-Smith: Lord as a local party in collaboration with MVRDV, where Jeroen Zuidgeest was responsible for developing the strategy and design. In the next four frameworks, Studio for New Realities is Lead Strategic and Urban designer. Austin-Smith:Lord is Lead Consultant and assists with local design knowledge. The team also draws upon the expertise of Urban Movement and Civic Engineers - who are working with Glasgow City Council on the Glasgow City Region City Deal ‘Avenues’ project and local artist-led organisation, WAVEparticle who recently represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale and have undertaken community-led projects on High Street-Saltmarket and in Laurieston.
Goals: what could life in the North-East Districts look like?
The main goal set for the regeneration of the North-East Districts, and ultimately for the city as a whole, is to maximise quality of life for all Glaswegians, considering three specific perspectives. Firstly, Glasgow as a dynamic and holistic city: a city open and accessible to everyone, where there is a vibrant public life in well-connected, mixed-use neighbourhoods. Secondly, Glasgow as healthy and responsible city: green, sustainable, active, and supporting its urban communities in myriad ways, creating real sense of ownership and responsibility. Finally, Glasgow as a thriving and competitive city. Attractive, with access to good education and jobs for all, and a strong local economy building on the city’s assets and expertise.
For the occasion of COP26, held in Glasgow in November 2021, DRF team leads Graham Ross (Austin-Smith:Lord) and Jeroen Zuidgeest (Studio for New Realities) co-authored an article addressing the issues of our time and the approach for Glasgow's future development.
The task is twofold: on the one hand strategic interventions are needed following a clear set of overarching goals, on the other – and most importantly – it is about improving quality of life for Glaswegians in their everyday lives. We need to be able to first ‘get the basics right’, to build momentum and credibility in delivering long term, sustainable regeneration across the area. This is about being able to provide everyone with a roof above their head, about making it easy to get around, about job and education accessibility and about promoting diverse and affordable local shops and (public) services at the neighbourhood level, among many others. These basics will be subject to an ongoing review of ensuring the fundamentals are in place to make sure the right things can happen.
Approach: how can we establish lasting positive change in the North-East Districts?
Early conversations with communities and stakeholders of the North-East Districts confirm that we needed to take a fresh approach to deliver lasting change in Cowcaddens, Townhead, the Learning Quarter and the Merchant City. This is why the District Regeneration Frameworks set out a vision and long-term strategic framework, plus whilst seeking urgent interventions and delivery of quick-wins – always with a people-centric, project- and action-driven approach. The ultimate aim is to deliver holistic, transformational change to the entire City Centre. To achieve this, a shift in mindset is needed: from system-centric to user-centric urban development. By taking future usage as the basis for spatial design and organisation, we can adopt a holistic approach integrating hardware (physical environment), software (amenities and activities) and orgware (community and governance). Moreover, a multi-layered strategy and a package of interventions at the street, neighbourhood and city scales help shape a hands-on action plan, contributing to a thriving city and smarter, more effective ‘operating system’.
Across the NE Districts there are a series of strategic key moves to respond to the ambition and vision for the City Centre. Combining committed key investments with new focus on overarching projects can transform the future City Centre. While adopting a people-oriented perspective for the overall regeneration, however, system-centric interventions will continue to be useful in creating a strong, city-wide strategic basis for subsequent actions of a more small-scale, local and occasionally tactical nature.
The strategic framework has been elaborated following four layers:
- (Y)our well connected North-East: Enhanced infrastructure and mobility
All areas of the North-East should be easy to reach in various ways. This means ‘completing’ the public transport network, facilitating car traffic smartly and selectively, promoting active travel, and making it easier and safer for slow traffic to navigate the city.
- (Y)our great spaces and streets: Network of public and natural spaces
The North-East shouldn’t just be well-connected, it should also be pleasant to move through the city and feel welcoming.
- (Y)our thriving North-East Intensified programme
By considering the city-wide network of functions, amenities and activities, gaps and the potentials for filling those gaps will arise. This way, we can provide Glaswegians with everything they need within close range.
- (Y)our enablers of change: How to organise transformation
To be able to deliver lasting and meaningful change, it is crucial to create an effective governance and engagement infrastructure catering to city-wide issues as well as local neighbourhood matters.
What will be delivered?
The DRFs are organised and elaborated in the form of a Strategy plan and four Handbooks. They identify the future vision, positioning, priorities and projects and set out how to deliver and monitor sustainable change in each of these Districts in the next ten years and beyond. Practical in use, they outline what goes where and why, suggesting who needs to work with whom and how to translate ideas into actions.
The resulting documents show a new take on how to approach regeneration for these Districts, setting in motion a layered strategy consisting of parallel development lines:
- Action-driven and projects-focussed development strategy: connecting communities, stakeholders and funding
- Not yet another report, but a practical handbook for development: explaining ambitions, projects, funding, planning and complexity.
- Seeking additional government funding to lever in other investment
- Community-focussed campaign: fostering a sense of ownership
- Transparent development processes, community involvement in policy and plan-making, and, importantly, freedom of use.
- Direct and short-term interventions to respond to current community needs (Covid Recovery) and to have Glaswegians benefit from regeneration from day one. We start now!
Status: where do we stand?
The draft versions of the different documents have been delivered to GCC for review and will go for public consultation early 2022. More information will follow by then.
Community consultation is a crucial element in the development of the DRFs. Glasgow residents will be able to give their input for the plans by means of an interactive platform. In this way, the desires and concerns expressed by Glaswegians will be mapped by comments linked to specific locations and themes, such as public space, housing and community, access to greenspace, and social contacts. This website was already part of the participation process, but has gained greater importance due to the Covid-19 measures. The results will be incorporated in the further development of the DRFs.