A presentation was made recently, at a Woodlands Community Council meeting, for a development in Kelvingrove park, at Gibson street. The proposal consists of replacing the old toilets that are within the park boundary and face onto the street, at the main gate to the park. The project is for a “Fair Trade” shop. The shop will contain all things community orientated, where you can buy fair trade coffee and goods. There will be things for kids and parents to do, a reading area, books, in a pleasant airy space. Sounds like the perfect place, where visitors and weary west end parents and kids can chill out.
A nice idea, indeed . Problem is, they want to build it on public owned land – Kelvingrove Park.
It is my belief that Glasgow City Council wish to privatise Glasgow’s public parks (On paper they have already. It only remains to present the idea to an unsuspecting public, in the guise of “Look what we are doing for you” when the reality is “Look what we’re taking from you.”). At the begining they will, of course, not infiltrate the public estate by blatantly installing a Mac Donald’s in each of Glasgow’s parks (that will come later, perhaps, when the public can do nothing to stop it). They will do it by promoting some publicly appealing, cuddly, ventures. like the above mentioned proposal.
Now, I know I’m just a busybody, out to spoil peoples fun and stop progress from happening and that there isn’t a shred of evidence that our trusty council would allow such things to happen, and there are plenty of examples where private enterprise has enhanced public facilities, especially for less well-off folk. If you, know of any, please send them to citystrolls.com for publication.
I know it’s a bit cliched to use analogies. But it is also a bit tedious repeating the same script over and over again. (Parks) So lets look at a few analogies here.
First one. Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. For anyone unfamiliar with the Titanic, or who haven’t seen the film. The Titanic, was a ship which sunk on its maiden voyage, taking most of the crew and passengers with it. The meaning behind the phrase being, it doesn’t matter how you rearrange the chairs on a ship that is heading for the bottom of the ocean. In the case of private development in the park. Whether you produce a touchy feely kind of enterprise that is there, seemingly, to serve and accommodate everyone – or you produce a Mac Donald’s franchise – is of no account. It’s about privatisation, period. In this case one deck chair is much the same as the next – whether it’s in first class, or in steerage.
The real point we need to focus on here is it is a private business and it is hoping to be in our park. It is in fact the first lose plank, on the unsinkable ship called the Titanic – our parks.
And while we could get all touchy feely about the new Fair Trade place, a few hundred yards up the same street (Gibson st) a bigger iceberg is floating towards its target, in the shape of a multistory school. Another idea that has as much to do with the desecration of park land, as it has to do with destroying community infrastructure.
The traffic congestion this idea would create, if it is allowed to be built, will be enormous, not to mention the pollution and danger to school kids traveling on busy roads from other areas where their local school will be demolished, to make way for, what, luxury flats?
Let’s just summarise here, we shut, demolish, or sell a pile of local schools in order to finance a super school that children will need to walk to, through heavy traffic, or worse be driven to. It will be built on a site just up the road from a national art gallery that, after refurbishment, will be encouraging as many folk as possible to its new visitor attractions (who will arrive, no doubt, by…). Not to forget the proposed school site will be built on and cover the park maintenance depot. Where will all the machinery and trucks go? To the south side, or somewhere, where they will have to travel across the city when they are needed to maintain the park? What about Kyoto?
Back to the Fair Trade shop
Some of the reasons and justifications for these developments are pretty thin – “Wouldn’t you like to get a cup of tea in the park,” Someone from the presentation asks, as if the couple of dozen places available for tea in Gibson Street, and around the vicinity were non existent. Another is, “But these toilets are unsightly,” as if they can’t be demolished an landscaped. And interestingly, directly across the street from this proposed development sits a big shop in a prime area, right on a corner and owned by the council, that has lain empty for years. Why not a Fair Trade shop there? Wouldn’t even have to build anything. But alas, we need to keep focused on the point here. Its not what is being built, it is where it will be built.
Another thing that was mentioned by the developers that carries no merit is that Glasgow City Council were dedicated to creating a “Fair Trade” city, by such and such a date. But we need to remember that GCC are also dedicated to saving the environment (Kyoto) and show it by proposing to building a six lane motorway (M74).
Think locally act globally
When the issue of “privatising parks” was mentioned to the proposers of the this idea (the Fair Trade place) they quickly answered that they didn’t want to get involved with the politics. It would seem ironic that folk who saw the importance of supporting “fair trade” – the same kind of trade which has been suppressed by colonisation of countries, by empires for the last couple of centuries – a position that they would be contesting in their shop. It is surprising then that these kind of entrepreneurs can’t make some connection, or comparison, to the localised colonisation of our parks by business – of which, aware, or unaware, their proposed business would be a part of.
It doesn’t matter whether it be a MacDonald’s, or a touchy feely kind of developer with no sense of historical perspective. The point is it is encroaching on park land which belongs to us all, and should be free from business interests.
In fact it would be helpful if it was a MacDonald’s, rather than a cuddly capitalist project, as it might help people to understand just what is being planed for Glasgow’s green space.
If we want a cup of tea in the park, it should be from a wee mobile unit, something that can be, got rid of, if need be. Someone else at the above meeting mentioned they had visited other towns and they have had places to eat in their parks. Fair enough. But, the problem with these kind of examples is you see them as a visitor, you do not tend to judge them by their impact on the local community. There is many a fancy art gallery been built to the detriment and cuts in funding of local infrastructure. But the tourist or visitor only sees the nice eating place.
We need to beware the Trojan Horse of cuddly capitalism. Where business goes, expansion happens. Where expansion happens tarmac follows. Where tarmac goes cars follow. And if there is one thing the public needs it’s a place they can go, that they don’t have to share with cars. And the only ideas I see the council coming up with are ideas in praise of them. Once the twin headed monster, of business and cars, is free in our parks we will never get it back in its cage.
When it was proposed to turn the school building, which is now called the “Primary”, ironically enough, and was formerly called “Hogs Head” into a pub, in Woodlands Road (which incidentally also promised to be a family friendly affair, not some studenty type drinking place), practically every one in the neighbourhood – in a community survey – were against the idea of the building becoming a pub. But when it came to the crunch and people were asked to give some visual support at a review board only a dozen or so people turned up. After all the hard work it was made easy for the decision to be reversed.
No pressure no problem
The business people, aided by public servants, have a pit of money (including ours) and manpower and also the business media to push through any capital making strategy they feel like and dress it up in any touchy feely gloss they care for to shield them from public scrutiny.
There are two kinds of power here, money power and people power. On the one hand we have what I have just described above and on the other we have those of us who disagree with these kind of plans for our communities. And I will bet we have alternative plans we would like to put in place. But it is not enough.
We need more than the dedicated people who run campaigns like Jam74 and the plethora of campaigners at work throughout the city, who are trying to place the citizens interests at the front of city policies. We need public pressure. The people running campaigns, in the public’s interest, need people doing things, supporting groups – turning up at events. I am not talking here of the need to change your life and take up your day with community activism. Just to engage in some way, even if it’s to show your appreciation, send a donation, make the effort, no matter how small – it helps. If you think it is councilors and politicians who preserve anything good happening in our communities you would be well wrong, and any councilor worth his or her salt, would tell you the same.
It is only you, and the support for those who have identified the business propositions, dressed up as so called community benefits, that will keep and allow the public estate to fall into the hands of our children and hopefully into the hands of their own. I have said it stacks of times and I will say it again, the park is the last place where we can be free to mingle as equals, unfettered by the distraction of commerce.
Must be worth some effort, of either taking a flask, or walking to Gibson Street for a cup of tea, if not more.