Pollokshields Heritage  

The Academy of Urbanism

The Academy of Urbanism prepared a shortlisting report on Pollokshields for their Great Urban Neighbourhood Award 2011. Sadly we didn’t win though Glasgow did go on to win the European City of the Year 2011 Award, a testament to the ongoing regeneration of the city as a whole. Nonetheless it’s good to hear what others think about our neighbourhood:

Pollokshields provides an excellent example of a mainly residential, mixed tenure mixed income neighbourhood with an outstanding architectural heritage and a diverse community with a long history of mutual support and self help. It enjoys the overarching support and patronage of Glasgow City Council, the attentions of a range of community and faith organisations and the benign vigilance of civic minded activists including Pollokshields Heritage and the Friends of Maxwell Park. The City Council engages these interests and consults on its own policies and proposals for the area through the Pollokshields Area Committee of which we were told there are 21 across Glasgow. A 24 member Community Council which includes the three City Councillors and the sitting MP has multi tenure, multi ethnic representation with a wide age range and a third women members, largely tenement residents.

In the 1960’s in a spasm of municipal hubris the City Council demolished and replaced the charming villas in the north of the area with a deck access e state and a cluster of tower blocks. Fortunately good sense prevailed in time to save most of the neighbourhood but not before a substantial portfolio of problem housing had arrived, the residents of which, some 50 years later are still wrestling with the legacy of system build failure though their collective interests stimulated a cohesive little community which has delivered a rich mix of support and services from the Nan McKay Community Hall for almost 30 years.

Amongst the blonde and red sandstone of the tenements a more varied community of renters and owners have celebrated their good fortune in living in this outstanding conservation area by maintaining the 64 allotments known as new Victoria Gardens established in 1879. In addition their efforts have delivered numerous greenspaces and the revamping of Maxwell Square which forms the eastern heart of the neighbourhood. Their Proud of Pollokshields campaign in 2004 heralded a community renaissance which now expresses s itself in civic pride and social engagement.

We were impressed with the way this outstanding Victorian legacy has largely survived and is now cherished, protected and celebrated by an active community which is still struggling with formidable challenges of poverty, deprivation and poor health yet working together and creating restorative social capital. In Pollokshields we found a community on a journey together, their antecedents launched and sustained by Victorian patronage, once threatened but now protected by the civic might of a great city, a new and diverse community exhibiting mutuality, generosity and tolerance. A community engaged in a dynamic social and environmental stewardship that attaches value in equal measure to people and place.

It is indeed an exceptional neighbourhood which ticks all the Academy’s boxes. There was a palpable passion for Pollokshields demonstrated on our visit and a genuine concern to be inclusive and a very real sense of active stewardship for both people and ecology. There were no examples of new buildings that met the criterion though environmental treatments have been designed to enhance the local character of the buildings.

Pollokshields uniqueness draws visitors from far and wide and when they arrive by car or bus or at one of its three stations, they are met by a welcoming community, interesting shops and eateries and stunning streetscapes and a riot of exuberant architecture. The data on social class, economic activity, ethnicity and educational and professional qualifications with which we were provided indicated a social mix of extraordinary composition and spread. It would indeed be difficult to find a neighbourhood better endowed with such readily accessible parks and open spaces.

This is a work in progress. The emerging cafe culture and specialist Asian shops are a success story but in other streets serried ranks of run down Asian food shops fail to match the vibrancy of the major thoroughfares. Similarly the industrial and commercial zone appears to be struggling at present though the Asian food wholesalers appears successful. Some private investment in quality shops and food outlets has no doubt been attracted by the quality of the buildings and public realm and the neighbourhood’s reputation. So far as employment prospects are concerned the City Council and its agencies and partners have a good reputation in this respect but with 15% unemployed and a quarter of the working age population of over 6,000 without any qualifications; and a similar number economically inactive by reason of long term illness, they face a huge challenge.

The situation is generally good though even where the Quad project had reclaimed a Close from overgrowth abuse and fly tipping we saw that the problem of rubbish dumping and fire damage had returned. There are a lot of people with a lot of different needs, many of which, such as the need for a job, are clearly not being currently met and are unlikely to be met in the near future. Nonetheless there is a prevailing concern to make the best of things through mutuality and advocacy on behalf of the less well off and a profound understanding of the community’s capacity for providing support. There is a refreshingly genuine local environmental consciousness and determination to conserve and reuse, plant and tend and share facilities and resources.

The nomination provides an excellent example of a well connected residential neighbourhood and East Pollokshields demonstrates an outstanding example of the Academy’s aim to achieve a coherent, permeable and interconnected street network that supports social interaction and a hierarchy of functions. There are a host of local facilities and services and the stations and bus routes are easily accessible on foot and connect with the City centre in less than 10 minutes. We will be hard pressed to find a better example of a place where the right uses are in the right places and where a legible urban transect is so strongly in evidence.

The nomination contended that programmes run by local organisations are based on the shared themes of increasing understanding, integration and exchange between people of all cultures and backgrounds, improving health and well being, improving skills and learning and community development. We found ample evidence to support this contention from St Albert’s primary school to the Hidden Gardens and from Nan McKay Hall to the Health Shop in Shields Road. A particularly inspiring example is to be found with the Friends of Maxwell Park who since 2007 have combined professionalism with enthusiasm and advocacy to raise the profile of the park and provide greater awareness of this historic parkland. Pollokshields certainly offers a rich and rewarding opportunity for study across the whole learner spectrum.’

Academy of Urbanism 2010 ©