A Godzilla reboot starring Bryan Cranston may be this summer’s big film, but in Glasgow we won’t have to go as far as the multiplex to see a giant green monster demolishing our skyline. For earlier today, Glasgow City Council brought us the announcement of what will (alongside Thistle-monster mascot Clyde) be the focal point of July’s blockbuster Commonwealth Games opening ceremony at Celtic Park: the controlled, 15-second explosion of the Red Road flats in the north of Glasgow, to be relayed back to the stadium via a giant screen. It is, apparently, a “bold symbol of the city’s rebirth”.
Glasgow City Council have finally entered a realm beyond parody. The council have an extensive back catalogue of recent PR fuck-ups, from the George Square debacle, Ronnie Saez’ £500k pay off, the new parks by-laws, to the infamous Wellington cone furore, but this surely tops them all. Far from being a delayed April Fools joke which was accidentally CC’d to the wrong people, the games opening ceremony really will be built around… demolishing council houses.
It was only three weeks ago that we asked whether the east end of Glasgow is the “new west end“, and ten months since we asked whether the Commonwealth Games are ruining Glasgow. What’s happening in this part of the city is a textbook case of “urban regeneration”. It’s a multifaceted strategy but one which clearly has the 2014 Games as the thread binding much of it together. Buildings are being torn down across the area and others are appearing in their place, all moves towards gentrification, pushing rents up and social cleansing. This agenda is usually cloaked in language about “embracing the future” and “improving our communities”, but the real face of it slips through with alarming regularity (just two weeks ago they banned a meeting to discuss the housing crisis in the east end). And demolishing landmark council flats in a grand circus act for the middle classes – with tickets for the opening ceremony starting at £40.00 each – could not be any more blatant. It’s little more than an act of triumphalism by the council, a shove it in your face victory for the yuppification of the east end to be broadcast to 1.5 billion people around the world (or so they claim).
The disdain for which the people of north-east Glasgow are held by the council couldn’t be more bluntly displayed than the manner in which local residents were informed, in letters sent out the same morning as the announcement was splashed across every Scottish news outlet. As nearby residents will have to vacate their homes for the duration of the demolition, council leader Gordon Matheson has kindly invited them along to Glasgow Green where they can “soak up the atmosphere at the fantastic Commonwealth Games Live Event”. While it’s awfully nice of Matheson to invite people along to a public event in a park that they could’ve attended anyway, an invite to attend the opening ceremony itself is notable by its omission.
Of the Red Road flats, only one still remains occupied, and they have long been in a bad state of disrepair. Their demolition is overdue and whether they are fit for habitation or not isn’t the issue here – although the council still sees fit to dump asylum seekers in the one block which is still occupied. The issue is that Glasgow has lost 60,000 socially rented houses since 1991, experiencing a similar rise in the private sector, that half of all people’s disposable income is taken up by rent, that gentrification is pushing people out of their communities, and that Glasgow is facing a homelessness crisis. One look at the Bellgrove Hotel should be enough to dispel the idea that there’s “no crisis in housing”, whatever the council may say.
The hosting of global sporting events is a competitive business and clearly Glasgow want to keep up with the big boys. The GCC elite may see themselves as a born-to-rule nomenklatura but being an er… local authority, they can’t quite match the resources of the Russian or Chinese state. So while they won’t have Sochi’s budget or Beijing’s 14,000 performers, they can at least knock down some big buildings! Clydezilla is coming, you have been warned.