Here is the latest blog in the series that discuss different aspects of the ongoing (Y)our City Centre Regeneration. Here artist Peter McCaughey, Lead Artist and Director of WAVEparticle introduce the (Y)our Place Map: A City of Portraits – an interactive map that captures a series of portraits of the diverse voices who make up the great city of Glasgow.
Art organisation, WAVEparticle, has made a map of central Glasgow, capturing a series of portraits of the diverse voices which make up this great complicated city we live in. The portrait interviews aim to capture some of the several ‘hats’ each person ‘wears’. It focuses on those working in or living in, one of the four districts that are defined in the City Council’s City Centre Strategy: Cowcaddens, Townhead, the Learning Quarter, and the Merchant City. This Strategy aims to set out a vision and action plan for each of the nine distinct, interconnected Districts that make up the city centre.
We are working with a team of architects, transport engineers, ecologists, planners, urbanists and economists, who are attempting to read and rethink these Districts to inform the plans for their future in a two-year project called the District Regeneration Frameworks or DRF. As a team of artists, we lead on building participation from the people who live and work in these areas and thread their voices, creativity and cultural focus into the overall work. We believe that the people we encounter hold bespoke knowledge and expertise- in their own lives, and often in all sorts of other areas. We record their observations of the patterns and details of the places where they live/work. We work in the tradition of Artist as a cartographer of the personal, social, anecdotal city, charting the psychogeography, as well as noting the dog fouling and parking issues that often dominate people’s first responses to us.
The overall team has been involved in an online survey of these four Districts of Glasgow city centre using a website called Commonplace. To complement this survey we have undertaken a series of in-depth interviews that enable deeper exploration of the issues important to residents, businesses and organisations in these Districts. The aim has been to build a map filled with personal insight, the struggles and achievements of day-to-day life, the big dreams and mundane frustrations, the music, art, and poetry. We pay attention to the things that the people we speak to think work and the things they would change – particularly in the four districts under study but also across the city.
“Most people are quite open minded and are not against change. What they just want to know is if there is some coherency in the plans and if it’s not going to be just another concrete block.”
Tony Munro, Local resident and Chair of Townhead Village Hall
The map is an online resource, (Y)our Place Map: A City Of Portraits, and will grow into a network of hundreds of diverse voices and related artefacts that remind us all of our complex, multi-cultural diversity. The map’s interface has been built by artist Naomi Van Dijck, over a precise google ‘undercoat’, and its surface has been illustrated with over 30 drawings by artist Danielle Banks, that fill the map with recognisable monuments and building facades.
The interviews have been conducted mainly by myself and logged and edited by Lizzy O’Brien, Naomi and myself. The goal has been to get beyond soundbite culture to a more complex understanding of the richness, diversity and ideas of the people who make up Glasgow. We wanted the handmade feeling of the map to complement the sense of a city of individuals, who somehow come together to make communities and a whole city.
“One of the things that’s missing from regeneration are [ethnic] communities. Often regeneration is physical but there are other considerations. There is not a regeneration organisation or group for ethnic minorities”
– Mohammed Razaq, Executive Director, West of Scotland Regional Equality Council
COVID has dictated that many of these interviews have taken place in people’s homes, via Zoom or Microsoft teams, so we have lost out on our preference of speaking to people in the place they are responding to. COVID guidelines have also restricted our preferred unplanned, peripatetic encounter, so we’ve had to work harder to get to the people often neglected in participative processes, and ultimately, we have had to identify ambassadors for these communities and go to them. At this early stage, the map has gaps, geographically and in terms of diversity. This underscores our experience on other projects recently, that the harder to reach have become even harder to reach during COVID, especially given that the use of some of our approaches and customised tools are restricted by current guidance.
“I’m the last shop in Glasgow that fixes small appliances, small shops are disappearing. Big companies produce goods that you throw away when they break. I am 62, when I retire the shop will go.”
– Mr. Avtar Singh, Local businessman, connected to SEMSA, an organisation to bring ethnic minorities together
Nonetheless, the experience is and has been, inspiring, illuminating, and educational, and sometimes frustrating – there are brilliant ideas out there for solutions relating to transport, urban realm, housing, social and cultural challenges but people often feel disempowered to make these changes. Ultimately our goal is to help shape an understanding of the city within these communities, our wider team, and the City Council, and by doing so, change the city for the better.
To us, this is all common-sense. The work is founded in a deep and fundamental belief in the resource the next person we meet represents, be they homeless, asylum seeker or refugee, shopkeeper, a retired worker, unemployed person, company director, street cleaner, student, visitor or long-term resident, and irrespective of their creed, skin colour, employment status, age or mobility. When someone in the marketing department of Glasgow City Council decided on the brand People Make Glasgow they tapped into a fundamental truth, beyond the cliché; people really do make Glasgow and a city full of acknowledged, empowered citizens is a wonderful, vibrant, diverse, innovative creative place- a place of resilience in hard times.
“It’s been a difficult time. Luckily we still have a lot of support from the Chinese community. I cooked food for the NHS during COVID. I am 62, I want to give back to the community, I would join a Cowcaddens community Council.”
Maria Lees, Local businesswoman, owns the Chinatown restaurant
It’s a great privilege to be an in-betweener on such projects and to explore how a type of devolved, integrated networking of knowledge and culture might inform the hard-physical infrastructure of roads and housing, lighting and surface drainage. The esoteric, the lyrical, the pragmatic-the imagined city, the annoying kerb, the derelict and the revamped site, the deep history and event-nature city, sit side by side, dance arm in arm and our perceptions of who we are, and how we are, somehow knitted into the fabric of where we are.
The map is a moveable feast and will grow over the next year. Our thanks to all contributors to date.
Get in touch with the (Y)our City Centre project team if you have an idea or issue you want to discuss to improve these four city centre Districts. And keep contributing thoughts and suggestions on the Commonplace website.
Peter McCaughey is the Lead Artist and Director of WAVEparticle.
As Lead Artist of WAVEparticle Peter has curated and delivered artwork for temporary installations and permanent commissions, as well as leading on community animation, place-making and masterplanning projects across the UK.
Please contact [email protected] for any enquiries.