There are two sides to Glasgow. Cop26 will only show one | Ian jack


SThe Clyde was once the way most foreign travelers reached Glasgow, as well as those from Ireland, the Hebrides and the Argyll peninsulas. The liners sailed up the river up to a mile from downtown New York and Boston and the imperial cities where Scottish influence was particularly marked: Calcutta, Rangoon, Halifax, Montreal. Until the 1960s, a traveler could disembark in Glasgow after embarking in Dublin, Belfast or Bombay, although by this time the larger transatlantic ships carried their passengers ashore in the deeper waters off Greenock. , 25 miles downstream.

This trade slowly contracted over the last 50 years of the last century and then suddenly disappeared. Other port cities have been similarly deserted, but perhaps in none of them, even New York, has the loss been so baffling. Glasgow, after all, had seen a steamboat long before it had seen a steam locomotive; the first commercially successful steamboat in Europe began operating on the Clyde in 1812, beaten only to a world first (according to the Glasgow Patriots) by the sharp practice of an American who had stolen the idea and had implemented it on the Hudson. Today, the last ship to carry on this two-hundred-year-old tradition is the elegant Waverley paddle steamer, built in 1947, which sails to and from Glasgow for two or three months each summer and whose near-miraculous survival is testament to Britain’s love for old machines.

A trip upstream on a beautiful evening this week revealed that deindustrialisation has its counterparts. Having left behind the magnificent estuary – in the days of international sea voyages it was considered the most majestic entrance to Europe – a pod of dolphins played around the ship in Greenock, while a few miles away , hundreds upon hundreds of swans gathered on the sandbanks near Dumbarton. The navigation channel was now narrow, the result of an ingenious but straightforward piece of 18th century engineering that deepened the river by forcing its flow through a smaller space, tracing the bottom to allow ocean going vessels to go as far as Glasgow warehouses. . ‘The Clyde made Glasgow and Glasgow made the Clyde’ was a saying that all Glasgow residents once knew, as deepening also enabled a thriving shipbuilding industry, which developed throughout throughout the 19th century until, in Edwardian times, the Clyde made a fifth of world tonnage.

On the deck of our ship, old men (each year, a decreasing number) pointed the finger at wastelands or new buildings in yellow / orange brick that the merchant architecture seems to favor, and announced a name.

“It was John Brown’s.

“This is where Connell’s yard was.

“Barclay Curle then. The Nevasa came out of there.

Sometimes there was an abandoned slipway, sometimes a wharf of rotten wood, sometimes a field of cows. When blocks of new apartments rose on either bank, the beating of our paddles echoed. Families came out on their balconies to greet. We passed a coaster loading scrap, the only ship on the river to be seen from Greenock, then near our destination the improbable sight of a half-built frigate resting on the butts.

The day was fading as we disembarked, not far from a hammerhead crane, built to load ships with locomotive cargoes, which sits like a sort of memento mori among conference centers, media headquarters and upscale hotels. which replaced the docks. The river, which no longer boils and stinks, is crossed by new bridges and lined with small trees. Lighting is cosmetic. It was difficult to reconcile this clean, conscious landscape with a 1960s memory of a quayside pub filled with unstable sailors and dockworkers, or the departure from a nearby quay on the night boat to Belfast. (The bar for those traveling in first class was heated by a coal fire.)

Cop26, the 26th annual UN climate change conference, will meet on this piece of old docks in November for what it describes as “the last best chance in the world to bring out of control climate change”. Up to 25,000 government, media and environmental climate activists are expected; Covid regulations for foreign visitors will be relaxed. There is a world to save – and a civic reputation to reinvent and restore. The UK government, which is the Cop chairman this year, has chosen Glasgow as the venue for the conference, and Glasgow is determined to prove that there are better reasons behind the move than a surplus of hotel rooms. According to the promotional video the city council made for Cop, “Glasgow is a city transformed… a city that continues to embrace change” using its traditions of innovation and social justice to overcome the legacy of its past and give its inhabitants a cleaner environment. , a greener and fairer future. “Glasgow can show the world that we are becoming the city of our time on [sic] the problems of our time.

Promotional videos never speak under oath; again, the language is ridiculous. Far from its new shores, Glasgow is often ruinous. The shopping streets – Sauchiehall Street in particular – appear to be of poor quality and abandoned; shrubs grow – unplanned greening – from the roofs of Victorian offices. The legacy of its best architects, Alexander “Greek” Thomson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, faces an uncertain future. Thomson’s Egyptian rooms sit, as they’ve been for years, rotting behind cloth screens and scaffolding on Union Street. No one can say if Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, badly damaged in a fire in 2014 and destroyed in another fire four years later, will be rebuilt or in what way. Earlier this year, a puzzling reorganization and reduction in garbage collection left garbage piled on the sidewalks. The loss of income at Glasgow Life – the so-called independent executive organization that manages the city’s culture and sports department – has led to the closure of 80 of the 171 sites, including many galleries, museums and libraries. Some have since reopened, others have not. About 500 jobs will be lost.

Of course, the causes of Glasgow degeneration are complicated and have a long history. The blame for the most recent failure, however, tends to go to the current state of Scottish politics and the fierce centralizing instincts of the Scottish National Party under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP took control of Glasgow City Council in 2017 after generations of Labor in power, but its city leaders have proven to be ineffective local champions. In the words of journalist and commentator Gerry Hassan: “Glasgow advisers are more agents of the SNP’s national administration in Edinburgh than independent lawyers from the city that elected them. And yet their city is deteriorating. There is a real blatant anger about the place.

Between 2013 and last year, Glasgow, which remains Scotland’s largest city, lost £ 270 per capita per year in Scottish government funding; only one or two local authorities in Scotland have done worse. The SNP has formed a useful alliance with the Greens this week, which could reinvigorate the party and bolster Scottish credibility at Cop26. And so, in November, the new riverside could shine with the kind of optimism not seen since John Brown’s shipyard launched the Queen Mary. The old town, of course, reserves the right to feel excluded.

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