Glasgow: an eventful city?

Glasgow: an eventful city?

Since the 1990s, events and festivals in Glasgow have strategically been used to renew the image of the city, in the context of a post-industrial strategy focused on urban revitalisation. However, the role granted to festivals in the city has varied according to the date, type of acts and organizers, from one-off major sporting and cultural events with a large international appeal (the 1990 European Capital of Culture, the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the 2018 European Championship), to the periodic gatherings for residents and tourists set in various neighbourhoods (West End Festival, Merchant City Festival, Southside Fringe, Glasgow Mela, Govanhill International Festival and Carnival). These events have taken place in a city marked by significant social transformations, from a growing polarization in the social distribution of urban spaces to a progressive increase in the share of ethnic minorities in the total population.

All these issues are explored by the Glasgow’s FESTSPACE team, composed of Prof. David McGillivray (FESTSPACE project lead), Prof. Gayle McPherson and Dr. Séverin Guillard. The Glasgow team has started their investigations which aim to highlight to what extent festivals and events can contribute to social and urban changes in the city, and promote public spaces that are welcoming for a diverse set of citizens.

 With the help of one of our Associate Partners, Glasgow Life, the team has conducted interviews with strategic stakeholders linked with the operation of events in the city. These discussions have highlighted how important events are as a strategic priority influencing, and being influenced by, Glasgow’s urban policy, but also how their implementation intend to reach goals at two different scales: reinforcing the city’s international appeal and creating content which can be relevant for local communities.

The team also has carried out visual and auditory observations in a number of festivals and events across the city. Just as the case of Finsbury Park in London, some public spaces in Glasgow have been used for a growing number of festivals, which has generated some public concern around disruption and the erosion of public space. For instance, while the three-day TRNSMT festival attracted 50000 people to the city’s centrally located Glasgow Green in the summer of 2019, it also produced tensions with active local resident groups complaining of noise, lack of accessibility to their park, and anti-social behaviour. Similar questions have been raised following the Summer Sessions concerts at Bellahouston Park, in the city’s southside, where residents complained about the damage caused to that precious public space due to the event. Through these controversies, it is clear that festive events reveal power relations between various types of actors invested in parks in Glasgow and how they contribute to shape the uses and people encountered in these spaces.

Finally, the team has explored how events and festivals can influence the design of the city’s iconic civic public space, George Square. FESTSPACE researchers have been able to observe and participate in an ongoing consultation process discussing the future of the Square, analysing the role that festivals and events play in the discussions. It is already evident that the city’s residents greatly value George Square as a space for civic events and, interestingly, for protests. The research team is involved in a second ‘live’ urban design project in the nearby town of Ayr, working closely with our second Associate Partner, Austin-Smith: Lord, where a new public (events) space is being designed. In both live projects, the nature of participatory planning and design processes, who attends, who doesn’t attend and what that means for the final outcome in terms of the final design is emerging as a key theme.

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