(Y)our Future City Centre: after COP26, Glasgow starts here

By Graham Ross (Austin-Smith:Lord), with Jeroen Zuidgeest (Studio for New Realities)

Projectgegevens

Graham and Jeroen have been working closely together, and in collaboration with many others, to consider a future strategy for Districts in Glasgow City Centre. The next four draft District Regeneration Frameworks for Glasgow City Centre will soon be published for public consultation. It is intended that these Frameworks become user-friendly and practical ‘Handbooks’ for change in the city.

Bringing together local and international perspectives here the team consider the future of Glasgow city centre in the context of COP26 and the call for action.

Glasgow and COP

COP26 is well underway here in Glasgow. World leaders have come, spoken and departed the scene, leaving delegates, scientists and diplomats to broker targets and pledges in an attempt to secure the political will, commitment to action and investment necessary to “keep 1.5C alive”.

As delegates and activists arrived in Glasgow for COP26 the sense of anticipation and apprehension was palpable as proceedings got underway. Would this be a good COP or a bad COP? Would proceedings get beyond “blah, blah, blah” and translate in to meaningful climate action? Time will tell; though when it comes to the climate emergency time is evidently not on our side.

Whatever pledges are made, whatever global targets are set, COP26 should prove to be a pivotal moment for the city of Glasgow. In hosting the UN Climate Change Conference Glaswegians will now be very aware of the climate emergency agenda. However, in common with folk across the world, what climate change mitigation and adaptation and what a fair transition to net zero means for them and their family, their everyday quality of life, their communities and neighbourhoods, their town or city, is less clear.

A New Approach to Place-Planning

Co-designing what that future looks like, and delivering the necessary change urgently and equitably, presents a huge challenge and a big opportunity for local communities, working alongside planners, specialists, entrepreneurs, investors and others to reimagine their place; not least here in Glasgow. Spatial design provides the ability to translate goals and promises into physical interventions; Design = Action.

Improving the way in which we plan places is fundamental to achieving fairer, healthier and more sustainable cities (towns and neighbourhoods). This goes beyond physical interventions to encompass the social, economic, health and environmental dimensions, and the new processes required to get the right things done. If we are to achieve a fair transition, minimise waste (resources, energy, time, creativity), restore biodiversity and habitats towards climate neutral places we need a holistic, collaborative and integrated approach that aligns with Scotland’s Place Principle.

Broader set of values Quality of life wheel No text

Sustainable Glasgow

Glasgow has already navigated a transition from an industrial to a post-industrial city with a diverse creative, knowledge and service economy. But how can it now achieve a fair transition to a circular economy within a decarbonised city region?

In recent years Glasgow City Council have published numerous ambitious strategies and policies to transform the city’s buildings, infrastructure and transport networks, transition to a circular economy and redefine the urban open and greenspace network. Key documents include the City’s Strategic Plan 2017-22, the Connectivity Commission, the Circular Economy Route Map, the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan, the Open Space Strategy and, most recently, a Transport Strategy (which is currently out for consultation). The existence of these strategies is augmented by tiers of planning policy that includes the current City Development Plan and Strategic Development Frameworks (notably for the City Centre and River), in anticipation of Scotland’s emerging National Planning Framework 4.

This policy and strategic framework has started to reposition Glasgow to respond to the global issues of our era, including the climate and biodiversity emergencies. However, translating policy in to action at a local level (as well as at the city scale) will require leadership, a clear sense of purpose and the means of providing user friendly guidance, capacity building, engagement and funding to support and empower local communities.

District Regeneration Frameworks : Case Study

Glasgow’s City Centre Strategy (2014) identified 9 Districts; each one requiring a Regeneration Framework to establish a future vision and outline what should go where, and why. The 9 Districts cover the full extent of the centre of Scotland’s largest, and only metropolitan, city. Evidently the environmental, social, economic, cultural and civic health and performance of these Districts, now and in the future, is therefore of national as well as local and city regional significance.

Crucially the 9 Districts also consider the City Centre’s relationship to neighbourhoods along, and beyond, the River Clyde, M8 motorway and High Street providing an opportunity to extend the benefit of City Centre regeneration beyond central Glasgow and to better connect citizens to their City Centre so it is truly a place for all Glaswegians.

Glasgow City Council appointed multi-disciplinary teams to develop District Regeneration Frameworks (DRFs) for the City Centre’s 9 Districts in 3 phases, with a pilot first DRF for Sauchiehall and Garnethill undertaken by a team led by Gehl.

It’s (Y)our City Centre : a collective effort

Austin-Smith:Lord have had the privilege of leading multi-disciplinary teams for the subsequent second and third phases of the DRFs, covering 8 of the 9 City Centre Districts. We deliberately combined local and international expertise into a gloriously diverse multi-disciplinary team committed to working with local communities, local and national agencies, experts and stakeholders from all sectors of society and the economy to reimagine Glasgow City Centre.

The most important experts guiding the process have been the Glaswegian community – those that live, work, study, visit and invest in Glasgow City Centre. It is not Our City Centre it is (Y)our City Centre! Glaswegians have identified the priorities and urgencies in each District; from the micro to the macro, from tactical ‘quick wins’ to long term strategic transformation.

City Urbanist, Prof. Brian Evans, called on the DRFs, alongside other planning interventions, to simultaneously consider the role of the City Centre as contributing to Glasgow - the International City, the Metropolitan City and, most especially, the Everyday City – reinforcing that need to enhance quality of life for all, everyday.

Using a pioneering, innovative and interactive process of sustainable urban planning the DRF approach is;

  • Community-led with co-design and participatory planning
  • Evidence-based urban data analysis, fieldwork and observation
  • Human-centred urbanism to develop future vision, plans and projects (micro to macro) to enhance quality of life for all
  • Action-driven approach to enable partnership working, delivery, monitoring and evaluation against KPI metrics

The second phase, led by Austin-Smith:Lord with MVRDV and Space Syntax and a multi-disciplinary team, prepared DRFs (now adopted) for Broomielaw, St. Enoch, Central and Blythswood. This work, undertaken in 2016 and 2017 and co-designed with more than 5,000 contributions from Glaswegians, sought to lock in best practice in sustainable urbanism. This involved extensive on-street and online engagement, including community animation work undertaken by WAVEparticle.

These DRFs provided evidence to the Connectivity Commission, championed the repopulation of the City Centre (with associated community infrastructure) and the adoption of a compact mixed-use city concept. The DRFs called for the restoration of built heritage and incentivised retrofitting of existing buildings, the need to alleviate severance caused by the M8 motorway, reallocate the over provision of road space to create streets and spaces for pedestrians, active travel and civic life and advocated an extensive programme of ‘greening the grey’ – notably along the Clyde to create a continuous River Park.

It has been heartening to see subsequent progress (in part super-charged by the Covid response) to boost City Centre living, advocate for 20 min neighbourhoods, reallocate road space through the Avenues and Spaces for People programmes, progress public transport investment and promote the River Park concept and nature-based solutions alongside early community action to improve key locations and connections such as at Anderston Cross.

Handbooks for Change : enhancing quality of life for all

The third and final phase led by Austin-Smith:Lord and Studio for New Realities, in collaboration with Urban Movement and WAVEparticle and a wider multi-disciplinary team, was appointed in March 2020, immediately prior to the Covid pandemic, to prepare DRFs for Cowcaddens, Townhead, the Learning Quarter and the Merchant City.

These DRFs will be public documents, to be adopted by the Council and used as ‘Handbooks for Change’ by communities, the Council and partners to deliver local regeneration with maximum focus on the everyday quality of life of Glaswegians in the City Centre. Each DRF ‘Handbook’ seeks to address the climate and biodiversity emergency, tackle Glasgow’s health, social and economic inequalities at a local level, develop an appropriate post-Covid response, and boost quality of life for all with a hands-on approach. The DRFs are local in focus but with a national significance and potential to influence best practice elsewhere in Scotland and further afield.

Regeneration for Who?

The DRF Handbooks aim to provide practical place-based guidance that can help inspire and drive community-led action, partnership working and secure funding and investment to guide regeneration of the 4 Districts in the north-eastern half of central Glasgow. A NE Districts Strategy that outlines overarching goals, principles and strategic projects will accompany these DRF Handbooks and seeks to coordinate action across all 4 Districts.

Progressed throughout the pandemic these DRFs have utilised a range of online participatory planning techniques devised to engage with hard to reach and under-represented groups in each District. This has resulted in over 4,000 contributions via over 200 meetings, 54 workshops, 44 online community events and webinars, 20 no. 1 to 1 interviews, 3 Freephone line sessions (to minimise digital exclusion) and 2 dedicated project websites capturing issues, ideas and solutions from Glaswegians.

Glasgow Started Here. Future Glasgow Starts Here!

The DRFs for Cowcaddens, Townhead, Learning Quarter and Merchant City cover a fascinating part of Glasgow that has suffered neglect and a sense of disconnection but presents an opportunity for the city to rediscover and reposition itself. Many communities in these Districts don’t self-identity as being in the City Centre and some areas exhibit stark contrasts in quality of life. However these Districts also have immense potential, talent, energy and appetite for change.

In combination these 4 DRFs encapsulate 280 hectares of central Glasgow and are home to over 20,000 people, over 2000 businesses employing over 55,000 people as well as hosting and knowledge cluster comprising 5 leading HE/FE institutions (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian University, City of Glasgow College, Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Conservatoire Scotland) with over 65,000 students and Scotland’s first climate neutral Innovation District. This half of Glasgow City Centre is also home to world-renowned cultural and creative institutions, venues and practitioners. This combination of assets and talent is remarkable and the potential synergies very exciting.

Significantly this is, of course, where Glasgow started – with the Cathedral and the High Street linking to the Clyde and Glasgow Green - the foundation of our Dear Green Place. The history of the place is apparent in its intricate, layered and complex built and social heritage.

In contrast to the ‘core’ City Centre to the south-west, the north-east half of the City Centre presents an opportunity to fundamentally transform the City Centre, and by extension the communities towards the North and East. This ‘yin-yang’ interplay can help provide a powerful paradigm for Glasgow whereby the north-east can develop a positive and distinctive identity that fuses and reconciles the history of the place with a progressive, dynamic, healthy and thriving contemporary urbanism, to strongly contribute to the functioning, performance and quality of the City Centre as a whole.

Glasgow started here. Glasgow’s next chapter should also start here!

Tourist map combined small

Delivering the DRFs

The DRF Handbooks are intended to be user friendly and action-driven. They should enable citizens, communities, city leaders and stakeholders to define priorities for action – from ‘quick wins’ and hyper local projects to major strategic infrastructure of national significance requiring multi-agency partnerships over the next generation. The DRF Action Plans identify potential partners, funders and investors from public, private and third sectors. Community empowerment and capacity building, community asset transfer and social enterprise are an integral part of delivering the circular economy and community-led ambitions of the DRFs.

The North-East DRF ‘Handbooks’;

  • Define an ambitious and appealing vision for the NE City Centre and each District to guide future development
  • Enable a mind-set shift in the way to plan, procure and deliver regeneration and development
  • Embed ambitious and practical sustainable urbanism in an holistic way
  • Develop a strategic framework at City Centre and District scale; focussed on creating a well-connected city, with great streets and spaces, thriving Districts and identifying drivers and enablers for change
  • Implement an action-driven, projects-focussed development strategy with ‘quick wins’ and priority projects evaluated against outcomes
  • ‘Get the basics right’ as a precondition to successful regeneration

Key Moves and Drivers for Change

The DRF Handbooks outline a range of projects across all four Districts to contribute to the following key moves and themes;

  • Working with What We Have : by recognising the available space for change and alignment of existing policies, identifying positive uses for vacant and derelict land, prioritising retrofit and repurposing of under-occupied buildings and optimising performance of existing infrastructure.
  • Distinctively Glaswegian Approach : seeking to fuse the city’s creativity and ingenuity with its gallus ‘can do’ spirit to restore and reinterpret the city’s incredible heritage, encourage innovation and support community-led local action.
  • Repopulating the City Centre : improving quality of life for existing communities, whilst accommodating 20,000 new residents in the next 15 years to create compact, mixed 20-minute neighbourhoods in the City Centre with convenient access to community facilities, amenities, services, jobs and city life.
  • Creating a Dear Green Place : with clean green-blue infrastructure and nature networks connecting between the Clyde, the Canal and the Kelvin by improving existing parks and open spaces, transforming vacant and derelict land, enhancing biodiversity, access to water, nature and places to play, relax, cultivate and enjoy.
  • Well-Connected City : with slow and low traffic neighbourhoods – let’s call them (S)low Traffic Neighbourhoods! – safe child-friendly streets, continuous active travel networks for walking, wheeling and cycling and an integrated bus-subway-metro-train transport system to create an inclusive, accessible and liveable City Centre for all.
  • Great Streets and Spaces : extending the Avenues and restoring historic arterial ‘Great Streets’ across the City Centre and connecting surrounding communities by dissolving the severance caused by the M8 and High Street to create qualitative streets and public spaces that bring the city together. Starting with a focus on rejuvenating the High Street and reducing the impact of the motorway on the City Centre.
  • Thriving and Productive City Centre : with a diverse day and night economy that supports existing businesses, new enterprise and ways of working, championing the globally renowned creative economy, the climate neutral Innovation District and transforming underutilised areas to an urban production zone to sustain a productive and increasingly circular economy.
  • Reinforce Alliances : between the major and leading educational, cultural and healthcare institutions clustered in NE City Centre to collaborate as a unique global alliance, share ideas and resources and be enablers for change and drawing upon knowledge and expertise to have real and practical impact in partnerships with local communities.
  • Climate Neutral : extending the ambitions of the climate neutral Glasgow City Innovation District to develop City Centre-wide energy, smart infrastructure and digital networks to decarbonise the City Centre, draw-upon renewable energy sources (eg. water-sourced heat pumps in the Clyde).

Ideas to Action

The 4 DRF Handbooks have been developed in collaboration with local people and various stakeholders. They will be published online in early 2022 for final public consultation. Together with an overarching NE City Centre Strategy Document, the DRF Handbooks bring together 100+ projects; from XS, S, M, L to XL.

Measuring and Monitoring Outcomes

Key measures of success and benchmarks to assess the city’s performance and to monitor project implementation and impacts were developed into a DRF Scorecard. These draw together international (incl. UN Sustainable development Goals), national and local policy alongside themes inspired by Doughnut Economics and metrics developed by the team’s lead sustainability advisers, Useful Projects to cover the following topics;

  • A Thriving Economy
  • A Vibrant City
  • A Healthier City
  • Better Connected Places
  • Climate Neutral
  • Resource Efficiency
  • Restoring Nature
  • More Resilient Communities

Each of these outcomes is defined against indicative qualitative and quantitative measures and the DRF proposes KPIs that should be honed to create a City Centre Performance Monitor that can help develop and deliver agile policies to implement change and assess impact.

Considered collectively the DRF Handbooks may present a daunting prospect. Delivery requires partnership, commitment and focus. The Outcomes listed above provide a framework against which to identify priority projects and actions to have most impact. To assist next steps, each DRF Handbook identifies quick wins and suggests coalitions to progress urgent projects in a practical way that intends to be user friendly, impactful for citizens and communities whilst addressing the climate emergency by thinking globally and acting locally.

In the meantime, if you’ve a great idea to help make (Y)our City Centre better, don’t hold back. Get in touch via the email below and discuss how to progress (Y)our Ideas.

Let’s start tomorrow!

About the Authors

Graham Ross is a Glasgow-based architect, urban designer and planner and CEO of Austin-Smith:Lord who has led the multi-disciplinary team preparing 8 of the 9 DRFs for Glasgow City Centre (Phases 2 and 3), providing local Design leadership and facilitating conversations with Glaswegians, local and national stakeholders to inform the final DRF Handbooks.

Jeroen Zuidgeest is founder of Studio for New Realities, strategic planner and architect, responsible for the Urban Strategy / Design Lead for the Phase 3 DRFs (6-9) for Cowcaddens, Townhead, Learning Quarter and Merchant City, and co-responsible for the Phase 2 DRFs (2-5) for Broomielaw, St. Enoch, Central and Blythswood in his previous position as Partner at MVRDV.