Glasgow hopes shrivel after the hype

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THE SURGE of municipal confidence that animated Glasgow at the start of the decade has disappeared, leaving a city that has lost its sense of direction.

Every night last week hundreds of Glaswegians crowded into the Harland & Wolff engine shed in Govan to watch Bill Bryden's First World War drama The Big Picnic.

The pounds 1m play and the hype surrounding it have raised hopes that the economic and cultural boom that made Glasgow Britain's unrivalled second city in the Eighties has returned to the Clyde. But now, four years after its European City of Culture celebrations, the Glasgow atmosphere could not be more different.

The brash self-confidence that characterised Clydeside in the Eighties and early Nineties has evaporated. The upbeat slogans - 'Glasgow's Miles Better' and 'There's a lot Glasgowing on' - have disappeared, and the politicians and public relations men who seduced the world into falling in love with the city are struggling to restore its spirit.

Glasgow in the Nineties faces an economic and social crisis. The marketing experiments of the past few years - the 1988 Garden Festival and the 1990 EC cultural jamboree - have failed to revive the local economy.

Today one in three Glaswegians depend on income support, compared with fewer than one in 10 in the UK as a whole. Unemployment among men has risen to 25 per cent, women suffer from the worst diet in the Western world and half of all primary school pupils receive clothing grants.

Worse, in the peripheral housing estates there are now more injecting drug addicts per head of population than anywhere else in Western Europe.

As the city's fortunes have declined, the famed cheerfulness of Glaswegians has been replaced by inward-looking Angst. Iain Mackenzie, who owns the Cafe Gandolfi in the heart of the fashionable Merchant City development, said: 'The Year of Culture in 1990 seems like another country now. The economic downturn in the past four years has created a new mood. Glasgow is not looking out to Europe any more. People are disenchanted, no longer so self-assured. Four years ago Glaswegians had a dream; now they cannot see a future for themselves.'

While some mourn the new depression, others, who regarded the arrival of boutiques and the Bolshoi in 1990 as a sick joke, say that 1994 has provided a timely reminder of the reality of life on the Clyde.

Brendan McLaughlin of Workers' City, a dissident group of artists who opposed the 1990 cultural celebration, said: 'The urban and cultural hype during the late Eighties and early Nineties obscured Glasgow's continuing decline. Yes, people came here for the first time. Yes, they spent money in the new trendy shops. But in the process the message got confused.

'People thought that all you had to do to overcome post-industrial blight was to open wine bars and stage plays in empty shipyards. But you cannot rebuild a city with drama and hype. We were told we would become Florence on the Clyde. Four years on, where are all the new jobs, the new wealth? Nowhere. Public money has been wasted and we are left with a dole-ridden, diseased town, with no cure on the horizon.'

Pat Lally, Glasgow's most enthusiastic champion, who as leader of the city council teamed up with the public relations specialist Michael Kelly to lead the fight to regenerate the city, concedes that Glasgow has lost its sense of direction.

'The momentum, the sense of thrill has gone and we have got to get it back.' The key to regeneration lay in creating the right atmosphere for investment, he said. 'We have to improve our image still further and make Glasgow an even more attractive place for people to spend money in and to live in.'

Urban renewal, he added, was a continuing process. 'Glasgow has to keep on re-inventing itself. Its past lay in farming, textiles, tobacco and shipbuilding. Its future lies in financial services, manufacturing and the new industries. To secure that future we have to ignore the ragtag minority of whingers who cling to the past and have nothing to offer for the next millennium, and keep on changing our ways.'

Already Mr Lally and Mr Kelly are planning new municipal projects in an effort to restore Glasgow's 'can do' culture. As part of the city's campaign to beat off challenges from Edinburgh and Liverpool to win the title of British City of Architecture and Design in 1999, Mr Lally wants to rebuild the Tait Tower in Bellahouston Park, remodel George Square in front of the City Chambers and transform Buchanan Street into 'the British equivalent of Fifth Avenue or the Champs Elysees'.

He said: 'These are not cosmetic changes. They are vital to attract new businesses.'

To Mr McLaughlin, however, the new projects have a depressingly familiar air. 'Here we go again. It's such a yawn. Have we learnt nothing?' he said. 'When will Glasgow's administrators realise that the answer to our problems does not lie with architects, nor with the Lallyrati, but with the people. We need jobs, not architecture.'

He added: 'Pat Lally is spending public money on schemes which cannot hope to create self-sustaining growth. Glasgow will never regenerate until he and others realise that the people are the real power- brokers. Invest in them, let them develop first and our own genuine culture will follow. Then you can have all the buildings and design that you want.

'But we must start the process of rebuilding our city in the right place - and that means at the beginning, with the people.'

(Photographs omitted)

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