Sunday, 6 March 2016
Anderston. Anderston Centre. The Bridge to Somewhere. Glasgow City Centre.
A few weeks ago on a hunt for new areas and districts to explore a few things caught my attention around Charing Cross on the north west corner of Glasgow City Centre. This is a thriving business, commercial and residential district I'm very familiar with as various buses I get pass along the main road into Glasgow's heart. On a whim however I jumped off the bus just before it, at St Vincent Street, maybe because I'd been watching "Back in time for the weekend" a nostalgia flavoured look at how technological innovations, fashion trends, music, food and cultural attitudes have shaped our lives over the past five decades. This is Anderston district, above, in 2016, an old inner city ward originally of overcrowded working class tenements next to the factories and shipyards on the nearby River Clyde.
During the 1960s a major transformation took place in Glasgow and much of this old tenement district was flattened to make way for the new M8 motorway, which carves a wide path through the southern edge of Govan, Cessnock, Kinning Park and Kingston. This was a blessing for me earlier,in 1957/ 1958 as my family moved from inner district Kinning Park to leafy Pollok during the initial slum clearances, like many others to new built outer large estates, holding between 20,000 to 50,000 inmates/families in each of them. Most but not all of the Pollok folk came from Govan, Kinning Park, The Gorbals etc on the inner south side.The other three large estates of Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Easterhouse took in displaced folk from inner city districts nearer their own inner quarter of the city. Massive schemes or council estates which became known as the "Big Four" one at each corner of the ever growing city built on ground which had been fields and farms. Glasgow, like many other cities in the UK and abroad found itself swamped with economic migrants from the impoverished Scottish Highlands and Ireland looking for a better life and job prospects. Very similar in fact to the situation facing European countries today. During the late 1880s and early 1900s Glasgow doubled in population nearly every decade, causing massive overcrowding and social problems and was the 4th city in Europe after London, Paris and Berlin to exceed one million citizens. The legacy of that is still going on in cities UK wide as the solution then seemed to be to adopt Le Corbusier's dream of "Cities in the Sky." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier
He was undoubtedly a talented visionary, years ahead of his time, but when his visions were scaled up and people, especially families, were added to the mix, this Utopian dream was found to be flawed. Of all the cities in the UK Glasgow seemed to embrace it wholeheartedly and despite numerous hi rise clearances in the last 30 years still has considerable numbers of these "sky cities" left.
Enough history. Nostalgia next. During my early teenage years, 16 to 19 years old, I knew people my own age in Anderston and used to meet them off the bus then walk around these flats in the days when you could explore the upper levels easily without door entry systems or CCTV watching your every move. I have to say I loved these newly built "cities in the sky" but only as a playground. We never caused any trouble or vandalized anything, it was just plain curiosity and a teenage love of anything new and exiting to explore on our doorstep. This was a real Emerald Kingdom and it was a fantastic time to be young.
This is a pedestrian bridge across the M8 motorway in the photo above that cuts up through the Charing Cross district on the western edge of Glasgow City Centre. For 40 years it stayed uncompleted, "the bridge to nowhere" as it hung forlornly above the motorway as a complete mid air dead end. A similar road bridge nearby did the same thing but was eventually topped off by modern office space. (Tay House)
Hilton Hotel above, a 20 floor, five star gleaming tower built in 1992 dominates the skyline here. This elevated wide walkway was funded by Sustrans a couple of years ago and makes a great walking or cycling excursion into the city centre via Anderston. It also finally links the two sections of modern Anderston together as the original 1970s design intended.
It is exciting even today but just for a short while at my advanced age and cynicism. Living in tenement land Nitshill during my teens the red SMT western buses ran past my street taking me into town and the heart of The Anderston Centre as the lower street level contained a bus station from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s. This "sky city" was originally designed as a much larger project stretching across both sides of the motorway with a connecting bridge across to other hi rise towers, shops and offices. Thankfully, this didn't happen as unforeseen events took over in the late 1970s and 1980s to change the nature and reputation of this mega structure.
Full details in this interesting link under Decline and Demise.
And a small taste of the complex and bus station from its hey day around 1985. This short segment here and film is not in the same class as Gregory's Girl, Local Hero, or Dear Frankie but it was filmed around Glasgow and Edinburgh providing a good snapshot of 1980s nostalgic charm and optimism. It's supposed to be Edinburgh hence the confusing Princes Street sign but it's most definitely Glasgow's long defunct bus depot. I don't remember it ever being this warm, light or busy when I used it however as it was all open plan, very drafty, dark and cold most of the year. It was never as crowded as this any time we were there which was a large part of its appeal...for us teens and then the sad angels of the shadows that followed our lead as a place to attract moths with pockets away from prying eyes.
It still looks a remarkable place but with the demise of the bus station I no longer had a reason to end up there after a shopping trip and out of town shopping centres and retail parks in the late 1990s soon changed my habits as it was more convenient and cheaper nearer home. I'd almost completely forgotten about this place until this visit which is an increasing danger we all face as technology changes our habits in an instant. City centers have been under threat for decades now and smart phones and online shopping can only add to that in profound ways with the recent news that 900,000 retail jobs may disappear over the next decade in the UK alone. Major UK brands like BHS are struggling in a very competitive market place and its frightening how things just disappear overnight, almost without notice, until you look back years later and wonder where they went.
Bumping into random strangers around corners meant it was not for the fainthearted after dark. A council scheme or suburb on the outskirts where you can usually spot or hear trouble coming from a distance, and avoid if need be, represents natural surroundings I'm more comfortable with. Like many deck access estates built during that period the residents swapped a close knit tenement community for a more isolated open plan wasteland which was not a very friendly or productive environment for bringing up children or keeping pets that required exercise outside.
An excellent short visual history of the M8 construction and the building of the Anderston Centre in the early 1970s. Kingston Bridge over the River Clyde opened by the Queen Mother.