Friday, 25 June 2010

Square go

I liked this recent piece from Joanna Blythman, at the Sunday Herald, lamenting the crass commercialisation of public space, notably Glasgow's George Square.

"George Square is a tip", she asserts, laying into Glasgow City Council's corporate-philistine view of what a central piece of urban ground should look and feel like. The Council, it seems, will grab at any money-raising opportunity to fill the area with giant plastic tents, tacky sponsorship and admission-hiked events.

I don't know that it's a tip, as such. But there is, sadly, a vacant blandness about George Square, from its inappropriate red surface and, now, grassless fringes to the absence of any piazza atmosphere.

It's a shame, when one considers the fine, blonde Victorian architecture surrounding. Just think how it could all look with a more thoughtful blend of complementary groundwork and intricate greenery, making this focal space more environmentally and culturally stimulating.

I actually have a great affinity with the Square. So much has happened there, even in my lifetime - from the historic poll tax demos, polis-surround anti-war rallies and other dramatic assemblies to more personal and happier congregations with loved ones.

With the onset of those 'necessary, bite-the-bullet' cuts - protested against by the usual faithful in the Square just this week - it's probably not a good time to have a square go with the Council on new imaginings for the place. Though, maybe there's 'people economy' in wondering about where and how all those newly-redundant workers and rationalised citizens might now spend their money-scarce leisure time.

Anyway, in lieu of any serious, approaching makeover, here's my kick-start suggestions for a new and invigorated Square.

For aesthetic purposes, big pastel-mix stone cobbles, with literary-local insets, generously islanded by people-sitting grass, plenty of flora-leaning trees and blazes of exotic flower beds.

I won't get on my Wellingtonian high-horse about removing all those funereal statues to colonial villains - though, we could commemorate great local (and international) heroes like John MacLean, instead. But why not alternate the plinths with Gormley-type installations, using more attractive and challenging art and iconography to make it a more engaging place to stop or meander through.

For spiritual and recreational indulgence, we could have communal yoga and body balance every morning, noon and evening, interspersed with join-in dance sessions for every age and inclination. Think fun and healthy living. In Lisbon's main square, they have neat surround speakers putting out cool soul and salsa music all day.

For other easy entertainment, there might be street artists and open stages for new talent - including dutiful celebs who want to gig for free. We could have school orchestras, flamenco dancing, ballet and rap shows and multiple other spectacle-inducing acts.

For kids, real and adult, we could have tables and ground markings for chess-playing, as well as more energising run-around games, encouraging the feel of a city at play as well as at work. Consider the stress-alleviation benefits for lunchtime office workers.

And, for more simple, lazy chillers, a smattering of cafe-style tables and chairs, akin to the great European cities, with affordable coffee and sundries, where assorted Weegies, touristos and other out-of-towners - even excited day-visit Highlanders - can just sit and languish in our glorious months of sunshine - I know, we need to think a little harder about the other ten rain, snow and wind-swept months.

But, hey, anything's possible with a little adventurous thought and playful application. It's time for some juvenile joie de vivre and lateral, latin learning on how we could change the whole aesthetic of the Square. We could even make it round.



Anonymous said...

I like all of your ideas for the square particularly bring back the grass.Only one other request I would like a fountain.Oh and a farmers market at weekends and classical music in the evenings.

Take Care


John Hilley said...

Ah, yes, yes, how could I forget the fountain! A big magnificent one, like the newly-restored beauty now outside the People's Palace. Or maybe something more kind of postmodern, with intermittent orange sun-like rays peering optimistically through dark teeming water - signifying Glesga's schizo weather.

Hey, the possibilities.....

Thanks for all your suggestions, Marlene.