I was astonished to realise that a quarter of a century has passed since the Glasgow Garden Festival.
I remember it vividly, as I was a frequent visitor to it; mostly with my then young family, but also as a local councillor whose ward included part of the Festival site .
The Garden Festival was about much more than gardening ; there was just so much for everyone to enjoy; whether it was watching the elaborate dancing figures which emerged on the hour from the McVitie’s musical clock ; zooming up the 250 feet Clydesdale Tower in a glass-bottomed lift; daring to ride the Coca Cola Roller Coaster; or, my favourite, getting a hurl in a Glasgow tram for the first time in the 26 years since I had seen the very last scheduled one run through Partick.
Much as credit is due to the commercial sponsors of such attractions, it was the extent of community involvement, of all age groups, in a range of projects too numerous to mention, that gave the festival its key ingredient – its “feelgood factor”; that democratic, “Glesga” atmosphere.
The Garden Festival concept was a franchise awarded to only five UK cities between 1984 and 1992; the other four being Liverpool, Stoke, Gateshead and Ebbw Vale.
Glasgow being Glasgow, the 1988 festival’s total of 4.3 million visitors over 152 days was the most successful of the five.
Also, Glasgow being Glasgow, some Glaswegians have and do beat themselves up as to whether the 1988 Festival left enough of a legacy.
Well, did it ?
The site of the 1988 Festival now bears the ersatz name of “Pacific Quay” , to the annoyance of traditionalist Glaswegians, like me, who see nothing wrong with the old names of Plantation Quay and Princes Dock.
As for the physical legacy, there is now a park, BBC and ITV studios, Glasgow Science Centre, some office blocks and the “temporary” berth of the Paddle Steamer Waverley, which was forced to move downstream from its berth at Lancefield Quay, due to the construction of the “Squinty Bridge”, which was built for access to “Pacific Quay”.
Does all of the above amount to a sufficient legacy of regeneration ?
In a physical sense…maybe.
But there are two principal, if less tangible, legacies of 1988 in my view.
One is the way that it boosted the morale and the civic pride of Glaswegians about our city at a time when Glasgow had taken many hard knocks. It was evidence that Glasgow really could be “miles better”. We’re sure of that now; we weren’t so sure back then.
The other legacy is this, and it’s just as vital to Glasgow’s regeneration today as it was back then ; Glasgow’s leadership decided, among other things, in the early 1980’s, to pursue a strategy of job creation in sectors that were new to the city, to help replace the jobs lost in our manufacturing industries ; Tourism was one of the new job sectors chosen.
Today, with Glasgow sitting as the UK’s number three tourist destination, it’s easy to forget that a generation ago, Glasgow didn’t have a tourism industry.
So how do you build a tourism industry from scratch?
Glasgow decided to pitch for big events to be held in the city, reasoning that, if you give someone a reason to come to your city, like to attend a big event, if they enjoy themselves, maybe they’ll come back.
The Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988 proved that Glasgow could deliver big events and Glasgow’s year as Europe’s “City of Culture” in 1990 ended any lingering doubts.
UK City Architecture 1999 ; UEFA Champions League Final 2002 and lots more besides, came to Glasgow.
Soon of course, the Commonwealth Games will be in Glasgow.
Successful events bring people who spend their money in Glasgow and often return to do so again, creating and sustaining jobs.
Not a complete answer to recession, but part of a big, strategic picture.
In that context, the verdict on the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival must be delivered in the measured terms beloved of most Glaswegians…
The recent news that Scottish Enterprise is preparing a new scheme to give extensive support to all airports in Scotland, to help them to secure major new air routes , is very welcome.
Airports and air routes are major economic drivers, sustaining thousands of jobs and having the potential to create hundreds more.
With airports and air routes , there’s a lot more at stake than:“going your holidays”; international trade is facilitated by international business travel; much high-value travel is carried in the holds of passenger aircraft; and inbound tourists support local jobs by spending their hard currency locally.
This issue of new air route development resources for Scotland’s airports has been a live one for several years now, since the Scottish Government’s Air Route Development Fund (ARDF) fell foul of the European Union’s rules against State Aid for airports and airlines .
Yet, pre-dating the ARDF and still operating today, is a fund which achieves the same outcomes as did the ARDF and to which Scottish Enterprise aspires .
I refer to Glasgow City Marketing Bureau’ s (GCMB) air route marketing fund.
That fund targets resources marketing Glasgow, at the other end of a new air route , giving tangible, but indirect and therefore, legal, benefit to the airline operating the new route .
So that begs the question about Scottish Enterprise’s aspirations: “Why not just take a leaf from Glasgow’s book?”;
and, one might add: “the sooner the better”.
Charlie Gordon June 2013