Credit: Kirsten Colligan

A tale of two cities

By Jeevan Farthing

Jeevan Farthing explores the way that economic worth factors into life experience in Glasgow, recently ranked as Scotland’s unhappiest city.

Glasgow has been ranked the unhappiest place to live in Scotland. As an unknowing first-year suddenly immersed in the cultural and culinary delights that the city has to offer, this finding seemed incongruous with my experience of living here.

I only have to walk to campus from my flat in Finnieston to be immersed in greenery, fountains and lakes. Kelvin Way, now effectively pedestrianised, is both soothing and thriving. The hubbub of students rushing to their classes and parents ambling along with their pushchairs is supplemented by birds tweeting and leaves falling. The walk is pleasant and peaceful, and ensures I arrive on campus feeling relaxed.

Another journey stands out though, for very different reasons. My parents don’t own a car, so before moving into halls we stayed overnight and walked from our apartment near the Royal Infirmary to Tesco Extra to get pots and pans. It was a dismal experience.

Almost the entire walk is along the roar of a dual carriageway. Before that, you have to navigate a labyrinth of elevated concrete structures criss-crossing each other, deafening those who dare walk underneath. Five whole minutes of lingering around never-ending pedestrian crossings, inhaling fumes as you wait. You feel dirty.

Walking by large roads and motorways is overwhelming and demoralising. The people speeding along in their vehicles are going places while you’re stuck here. This is because a city designed for cars is ultimately a city designed for those who pass through it and not those who reside there. It’s telling that in Springburn – the area the dual carriageway leads to – only 37% of households actually own a car.

“A city designed for cars is ultimately a city designed for those who pass through it and not those who reside there.”

The walk also takes you past Sighthill, emblematic of the failure of the city’s housing policy in the late 20th century. While those with qualifications and better employment prospects were siphoned off into new towns like East Kilbride and Cumbernauld, high-rise estates like Sighthill were constructed and quickly deteriorated as only those in the most desperate of circumstances would choose to live there. 

Sighthill has now been demolished. So have a lot of other high rise schemes in the poorer parts of the city, which contributes to Glasgow having the highest total acreage of vacant and derelict land in Scotland. This same study also found a link between exposure to this land and poor mental health. Unfortunately, communities have not been afforded the opportunity to reclaim these spaces, because a decade of austerity has deprived local authorities of the resources needed to spruce them up and, in many cases, decontaminate them. Instead they just lie empty and abandoned.

These are the consequences of managed decline. They are brutal, long-lasting and poisonous. It is overwhelmingly those areas still reeling from the decimation of heavy industry that contain the most unpleasant living environments and feel most unloved by those running the city. Fundamentally, Glaswegians are unhappy because the place in which they live is not designed for them to be happy.

My first two walks in Glasgow demonstrate a tale of two cities within one. There is a gaping chasm in the experience of those whose economic purpose is to contribute to Glasgow’s economy by spending money, and those who contribute to Glasgow’s economy by earning money: in other words, through their labour. A large proportion of the latter group, but also those out of work, cannot afford to spend money on a coffee and cake in the West End, so the city does not consider their living environment to be important.

Such analysis is reductive, you may argue. Glasgow has a booming financial district in Anderston, and people work there too. Alas, they probably own a car. The thrill of the elevated motorway running alongside can whisk them away in no time. But, if you’re a local living in the slab blocks on St Vincent Street, you’ll have to traipse through a dimly lit underpass that stinks of piss to access your local station.

What a damning indictment of Thatcherism. Where your experience of Glasgow is overwhelmingly shaped by your economic worth. 

I love living here, but I’m a student and I’m meant to love it. That’s the problem: not everyone is.


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