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Review - Exhibition - Shifts.

By Johnny Rodger

At The Lighthouse,
11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, until 14 October

Concern about Scotland’s spreading urban midriff in the belt between Edinburgh and Glasgow is nothing new. Back at the beginning of the last century, pioneer planner Patrick Geddes, inventor of the word ‘conurbation’, coined the term ‘Clydeforth’ to apply to this whole settlement area. But with the current housing shortage, and doubts about the necessity and efficacy of green belts, a new exhibition at the Lighthouse, ‘Shifts’, brings a timely fresh look.

Developed through workshops held in April, the show claims to project us ‘into the future of Scotland’s Central Belt’. On the Lighthouse’s invitation four Scottish architectural practices have developed ‘scenarios’ and propositions that suggest how the area will evolve over the next 50 years. A sequence of coffin-length cabinets stretches east-west through the gallery, at once imitating and mapping out the geographical spread of the conurbation. We open each cabinet in turn and find details of the various projects.

Once we get over the mind-numbing repetitions of the latest urban and architectural buzzwords (like ‘governance’) and the obsession of Scottish urban commentators with the success/failure of Cumbernauld New Town as a future city, we find that this exhibition is really about the ways we inhabit and use space now.

To paraphrase curator Florian Kossak’s remarks in the introductory video to the show, ‘the making of future projections liberates us from the micro-level problems of day-to-day management’. The problem with the planning and development of Scotland’s central belt is that – because it is split into countless different municipal, local-authority, city and town-council jurisdictions – there has never been a comprehensive policy for it.

Yet if there are utopian strains to this exhibition, then the worthiness that inevitably comes along with that is, thankfully, mitigated here by a good deal of historical and critical analysis.

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