The 1960’s and 1970’s in Glasgow was an era of incredible optimism and change. Whole swathes of old 19th century tenements were being demolished and replaced with new concrete blocks of flats to give families modern accommodation with kitchens, indoor bathrooms and central heating. Speed and fast forms of construction were key to solving some of the worst slum conditions in Europe at the time. Sadly, there were negatives – speed and construction quality do not necessarily go hand in hand, barren areas around the housing blocks became no-go zones, new technical solutions for central heating ignored affordability to the tenants, and technical issues of insulation and condensation were not understood, while whole communities who had lived together for decades were broken up and scattered across the city.
The world moves around in circles. Glasgow, with the highest concentration of residential flats in the UK, has a new 21st century strategy to demolish many of these post-war tower blocks and replace them with thousands of new homes across the city in a way that is much more traditional and much more sustainable. Since 2006, a quarter of the city’s high-rise housing has been demolished. While politicians and the media celebrate the death of a high-rise as progress, communities are again being split up and scattered as if those lessons of the 20th century have been forgotten, along with large-scale demolitions in Dalmarnock for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Photorapher Chris Leslie has been recording the disappearance of housing schemes from both the 20th century and the 19th, where the lessons of good community projects to reuse housing as Assist in Govanhill seem to have been lost. Leslie asks the question: “No one can argue with the fact that Glasgow needs regenerating, or that a “renaissance” could usher in positive change. But does this renaissance have an end-game, or is Glasgow poised for an endless cycle of demolition and new-builds? In 50 years, will we be witnessing the same dispersal of local communities and whole scale demolition of the houses we are building today?”
With this new regeneration, has Glasgow learnt the lessons about listening to communities and providing long-term sustainable and affordable housing in which those communities can grow, prosper and slowly change, rather than be subjected to disruption and redevelopment?
“It’s not the actual building itself. It’s all your memories, that’s where I was brought up, that’s where I was made” (Finlay in the Red Road flats)