by James Carson
In recent weeks, my morning walk from the east end of Glasgow into the city centre has been accompanied by the roar of pneumatic drills and the tang of warm tarmac. Main roads have been resurfaced, shop-fronts have been refurbished, waste ground has been landscaped. Even the local chip shop has been given a makeover.
The outbreak of spring cleaning is part of a major effort to ensure that Glasgow looks its best for the athletes, spectators and media attending the 20th Commonwealth Games, which open on 23 July. But it’s also an attempt to breathe new life into a long-neglected part of the city.
In 2007, Glasgow’s successful bid for the Games was hailed as a catalyst for the regeneration of the east end. With a reputation for high rates of crime, high rates of mortality, sub-standard housing and poor health, this area of the city has sometimes appeared to be dying while other parts of Glasgow are being reborn.
Many of the Commonwealth Games events are taking place in and around this area, including the opening ceremony, hockey, badminton and cycling. In addition, the athletes’ village is located on the banks of the River Clyde in the east end district of Dalmarnock. Few doubt that Glasgow 2014 will be a success. But one of the big questions about the Commonwealth Games is whether they will have a positive, lasting effect on the local communities.
So far, the signs are mixed. A Scottish Government report, published in May, assessed the potential legacy of the Games. It observed that there are already signs of improvements to the physical and social environment in the east end of Glasgow. But the report concluded that a concerted effort to maintain focus and momentum and embed aspirations and outcomes into long- term strategies will be critical in achieving many legacy outcomes.
A different assessment appeared in the journal of the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA) in April. The author argued that the new six-lane highway through Glasgow’s east end might serve big business, but would form an infrastructural barrier for the people of Dalmarnock. The article also noted that the refurbishment of Dalmarnock railway station and some new cycle routes represented a tiny fraction of the public transport investment undertaken for the London 2012 Olympics. The RIBA article was complimentary about the public facilities at the new Emirates Arena, but elsewhere it’s been noted that the cost of using them are beyond the means of local people.
More recently, the organisers have been criticised for closing some of the city’s cycle routes during the Games for security reasons. An increase in cycling was another of the anticipated legacies of Glasgow 2014, especially in view of the city’s poor track record on physical fitness.
Sustrans Scotland director John Lauder described the closures as “very disappointing”.
“We fully understand the need to make sure the Games are safe and secure for everyone. But we don’t understand why on the one hand people are being encouraged to cycle and walk to events, but are being discouraged from doing so with routes that are complex, fiddly and avoid high-quality infrastructure, such as the national cycling network (NCN).
Clyde Gateway, the regeneration agency set up when Glasgow won the Commonwealth Games in 2007, has promised that the event will have tangible legacies: 10,000 new homes, 21,000 new jobs and £1.5bn of private investment over two decades. One of the first of these elements will be the Commonwealth Games village, a 700-home development (400 at affordable rents) that will be available to local residents when the athletes return home.
Work is also under way to build a new community centre in Dalmarnock, following the controversial demolition of the previous centre to make way for a Games coach park. The “Dalmarnock Legacy Hub” will include a flexible hall space alongside a GP surgery, nursery, pharmacy, shop and café as well as training and educational facilities.
One way of sizing up the post-Games prospects for Glasgow 2014 is to look at Manchester 2002. A report published after the Manchester Commonwealth Games found that, in addition to a better regional image, better transport and more construction jobs, the Games impacts included a more enhanced school curriculum, a healthier population, more trade links for local businesses and a more cohesive community. But, echoing the more recent Scottish Government assessment, the Manchester report stressed that these benefits didn’t happen by accident:
“Manchester City Council and others did not simply assume that the benefits of the Games would ‘trickle-down’ to the most needy beneficiaries in the region but instead actively put forward a number of interventions to guide the flow of benefits directly towards those most disadvantaged.”
In short, a lasting impact will take commitment from the top down and hard work all round. Once the baton has been passed to Australia’s Gold Coast on 3 August, Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games will be over. But the race to regenerate the most deprived city in Scotland must go on.
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