Planning Futures and Glasgow’s History

by Ken Gibb

A few years ago I spent some time dipping into the Scottish Screen Archive looking for films on Glasgow’s housing redevelopment phase in the 1960s and beyond. There are some amazing bits and pieces that can be found at their website. Last night and completely by accident I found an amazing film:[1]  A half hour film, ‘Glasgow 1980’ was made in 1971 and asked what would the city, its people, its housing and employment look like by 1980 from the earlier vantage point.

Now I may just have stumbled on an already well known urban propaganda planning film but if you have not seen it, it is well worth watching. This was the period of the apogee of motorway development through the city centre and the completion of the Kingston bridge joining the M8 on both sides of the Clyde. The footage of the hole through the north of the city centre is amazing – both my parents’ childhood homes were demolished for this purpose or for the adjacent Anderston comprehensive redevelopment.

The optimism of large-scale planned urban renewal is everywhere in the film along with the confidence that technology would drive economic regeneration. Of course, de-industrialisation had already set in but in 1971 there was incredible optimism about the future and the self-belief of the state prior to the oil crises of the 1970s hastening the process of economic restructuring thereafter. There is also a nice section on the city plan and discussion of the mixed use and amenities planned for the key areas of comprehensive redevelopment.

At the other end of the scale there is a fascinating segment on city night life in 1971. However, the motif throughout the film is the car on the motorway system and the film ends with what appears to be the famous bridge to nowhere (or at least a bridge to nowhere) – itself an ironic precursor.  The final credits are also worth waiting for. I defy Glaswegians, social historians and housing or urban specialists not to be affected by this film on a number of levels. It is an amazing piece of history, culture and an insight into the assumptions made by planners and their representation in an earlier era, though one that we remain the recipients of those decisions made primarily in the 1960s.

I leave the critical de-construction to others but do watch if you have a chance.

[1] Copyright of the National Library of Scotland and Scottish Screen Archive