When I first visited Glasgow back in the 1990s I couldn’t help but draw parallels with my home city of Liverpool. I was amazed by the similarities. Everywhere you looked there were signs that the city had great historical significance; architectural splendour and monuments to the past abounded but there was no escaping the somewhat scruffy and tattered facade of a now declining and long forgotten city.
Glasgow was once described as “The Second City in the Empire” such was its influence during the 19th century. It was one of the richest cities in Europe; its wealth built upon a wide range of heavy industries, especially shipbuilding, locomotive construction and engineering. At one point Glasgow produced almost one fifth of the world’s ships and one quarter of all locomotives in use anywhere in the world. The huge Finnieston Crane, one of the city’s best known landmarks, serves as a reminder of this industrial heritage.
Like many industrialised cities these heady days didn’t last and industrial decline had a dramatic impact on the fortunes of this once great city. Glasgow became synonymous with urban decay and it is often cited as the city with the worst levels of deprivation, suffering from high levels of unemployment, child poverty, poor health, crime and drug and alcohol abuse. With such a public image, convincing would be investors that there are opportunities to be had is undoubtedly difficult.
This view, for the city as a whole, is now misplaced and there has been a change in fortune as regeneration schemes and inward investment have helped to stem the tide of decay. TV coverage of the Commonwealth Games has been a great advert for the city and has showcased just what Glasgow has to offer; there is no doubting that visitors have been welcomed with open arms. It is hoped that this positive portrayal around the world will be enough to change people’s perceptions and make them sit up and take notice.
Whilst the future looks much more positive for Glasgow and great strides have been made in the reduction of deprivation levels and alleviation of poverty they are still blighted by the huge inequalities that exist across the city and the resultant social exclusion. There is a difference in life expectancy of 20 years from the most affluent to the most deprived areas. Trying to break the cycle of deprivation of disenfranchised residents is the challenge faced by the authorities. It is claimed that the Games will bring jobs, homes and new opportunities to deprived communities of Glasgow and the fabric of the east end may have changed beyond recognition but simply transforming the built environment does not change lives.
If we are to measure the success of the legacy of the Games, then it is not simply about the environmental sustainability and increase in sporting participation. It is the social changes that will be a true measure of success. Jobs have been created, affordable housing will be available but will the benefits be felt by the residents of the most deprived neighbourhoods or will gentrification merely displace the problems to another part of the city. This has always been the most difficult challenge of successful regeneration schemes and one that has often fallen short. Will Glasgow be able to do things differently once the media spot light is turned off?
The Games themselves have been a huge sporting success and Glaswegians should be proud of their vibrant city. We will have to wait to see just how far the legacy extends but I can’t wait to go back and see the changes for myself.