The look and the feel of city centres are important aspects of city life, because residents spend a considerable amount of time there for employment, leisure, travel and retail purposes. The greenness of city infrastructure overall plays a vital role in strengthening and sustaining physical and mental wellbeing and biodiversity as well as contributing to the massive climate challenge that we face.
Glasgow often boasts about its Gaelic roots as ‘a dear green place’ and also about its parks. Indeed, the city has 91 public parks and gardens which is also the largest percentage amongst all Scottish local authorities. In view of this, it may however come as a surprise, that this apparent wealth of greenspace masks that Glasgow actually has the lowest percentage of publicly accessible greenspace per 1,000 people: 11 hectares compared to the average 27 for the rest of urban Scotland. It also has less than 1% ‘open semi-natural’ greenspace compared with the average 8% for urban Scotland. Adding to this picture, it also has the largest percentage of derelict land by area of any local authority, with 60% of Glasgwegians living within 500m of this derelict land. Unsurprisingly, the largest amount is located within the most deprived areas of the city, with profound implications for environmental justice. A recent study defining and ranking urban centres based on multiple green attributes – trees, greenness and accessible greenspaces – confirms this bleak picture, reporting that Glasgow had the least green city centre of all the cities investigated.
So those of us who live in and care about Glasgow are faced with yet another set of contradictions and lack of transparency. Glasgow Council leaders boast of their desire to make Glasgow one of the greenest cities in the world, and that this should form the basis of the economic strategy. Yet as we have highlighted in our recent account of the city’s economic strategy as well as our longer report on city plans to tackle to climate emergency, the focus on greenwashing, gentrification and incentivising the private sector is the antithesis of a coherent plan for environmental justice.
Finding a coherent set of information about greenspace strategy is difficult, but the latest report on the Glasgow City Council website about reducing derelict and vacant land shows a fall of only 6% between 2020 and 2021, with much of it going on private housing development. The extension of nature reserves throughout the city, although welcome, are largely within existing green areas, and the extent of consultation and progress is not known. Despite there apparently being a Forestry and Woodland Strategy for the greater Glasgow area, and a much vaunted aim to plant 18 million trees, the extent of progress on this is also unknown. Where there have been advances in urban forest development, this is largely as a result of local activism. North Kelvinside residents were eventually successful, despite Council resistance, in fighting to protect treasured greenspace from developers to create a children’s wood. The community led environmental charity, UrbanRoots, has been the driving force behind the development of Malls Mere urban forest in Toryglen.
Lastly, we note the introduction by Glasgow City Council of Liveable Neighbourhoods, which combines two ideas. The first is the ‘20 minute neighbourhood’, where all important amenities are available within 20 minutes, and the second is the ‘place principle’, where ‘people, location and resources combine to create a sense of identity and purpose.’ Exactly how these will address the problems of areas hollowed out by austerity is entirely unclear, but for the purposes of this blog, do not appear to address the greenspace issue in any convincing way.
In keeping with the development of these short blogs on key issues relating to Glasgow, we invite you to comment on this content, and let us know what you think needs to be done to enhance access to greenspace in the city.
Fifield, Shivali (2020) The urban politics of greenspace: exploring community empowerment for greenspace aspirations, justice and resiliences. A participatory action research project in Glasgow. PhD thesis.