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Learing from Glas Vegas: The brief

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An urban design and lighting workshop linking two adjacent, contrasting districts in Glasgow city centre

Glasgow’s Merchant City, a dense grid of streets in the centre of Scotland’s largest urban townscape, is a perfect fit with the Philips Livable Cities programme, which promotes, safe, sustainable, creative urban environments with lively night-time economies. In the Merchant City, homes and small businesses mingle with pubs, cafés, restaurants and clubs.

As well as broad streets with American-style warehouse buildings, the area is threaded through with small lanes, glazed brick courtyards, a beautiful churchyard and some impressive Victorian architecture.

To the south-east of the Merchant City, Glasgow’s famous Barras market and the Barrowland Ballroom, with its large Vegas-style neon sign, mark the beginning of the city’s east end. This is the Calton, the gateway district leading to the 2014 Commonwealth Games site further east. Although the mix is similar - housing, leisure and retail - the townscape is less coherent here and the levels of health and wealth of its residents considerably lower.

We asked our participants to imagine a dark November night in Glasgow. To imagine walking from the Old Fruitmarket in the Merchant City to the Barrowlands Ballroom in Calton on a route of their own choice. And to imagine how new lighting and good townscape design could make that journey a winter’s delight. We asked them to take advantage of short cuts through lanes, routes past statues and architecture of interest, and alongside businesses, homes, pubs, clubs and cafés, to provide a thrilling night-time experience for Glasgow’s citizens and visitors.

We gave them six hours to create their vision before presenting to the crit panel.


Cathy Johnston, Group manager, Glasgow City Council

The Calton area of Glasgow sits adjacent to the Barras market and is only a 10-minute walk from Glasgow Cross, the historic centre of the city. When viewed on a map, Calton would appear to be in a prime location - linking the city centre to the Commonwealth Games venues and acting as a gateway to the wider east end.

However, in reality Calton has suffered from a sense of dislocation from surrounding areas for a number of years. This is partly due to physical and perceived barriers, such as roads, vacant land, railways and the Barras market itself, which is essentially closed for five days a week. But it could also be considered a result of being on the edge of existing and previous regeneration initiatives, such as the Clyde Gateway and the Commonwealth Games site to the east and the Merchant City Townscape Heritage Initiative to the west. Until recently there has been a strong feeling among local people that Calton has been ‘missed out’.

The importance of improving connectivity between Calton, the city centre and the east end was initially recognised by Glasgow City Council in its East End Local Development Strategy, published in 2008. This defines Calton as within a ‘repair and reconnection zone’, where managed intervention is promoted to enable it to thrive as an integral part of the city. Particular reference is made to south-east Calton, where ‘areas of derelict land’ are considered to ‘blight the area and undermine the cohesion of urban form between Bridgeton and the city centre’.

Measures to improve connectivity were further explored through a community-led Street Audit in 2010. This focused on enhancing opportunities for walking by identifying key streets and spaces and proposing measures to improve their appearance, safety and legibility.

The findings from the Street Audit are reflected in the local planning document for the area, the Calton Area Development Framework (2012), which sets out a range of policies that seek to create a resilient, well-connected neighbourhood in the east end of Glasgow with a revitalised Barras market at its core.
Glasgow City Council is now undertaking a five-year programme of investment in the area, through the Calton Barras Action Plan (2012), which specifically targets the Barras market, vacant land and buildings and the environmental quality of key routes and spaces. Some of the projects directly address connectivity, such as the extensive Barras Shopfront Improvement Scheme, which aims to create a more attractive walking environment by upgrading street frontages, and a commission in partnership with Velocity, which will introduce art works along London Road.

Other projects aim to create better links with the Barras through public realm improvements and traffic calming measures, while investment in vacant floorspace hopes to bring more activity to the area, creating a vibrant market hub and further strengthening the relationship between Calton and the city centre.

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