THE CITY AND THE STORIES OF THE FUTURE
Glasgow is a city rich in stories, metaphors and mythology. These affect the way the city is presented, represented and understood in public discourse, media and wider culture. They also impact on those who live in the city – and on the possibilities of change, and how the future is created and evolves.
As the wider project makes clear the representation of Glasgow is characterised by extremes and binaries: ‘the official future’ of a bright, shiny, optimistic place open for business, tourism and consumption – the face of the city presented to the world for COP26. This is the mindset of ‘Glasgow the Brand’ – on-message with its own can-do words, images and slogans presenting what it thinks is the city’s best face to the outside world.
On the other hand a diametrically opposed take is often found in public discourse and media such as recently in The Guardian (Ian Jack) and The Herald (Neil Mackay) that presents a city in abject, existential crisis. This is a city portrayed as filled with bleak lives, lack of hope and agency, failing public services and a council in turmoil, and a crumbling public realm.
Both these accounts have significant audiences and traction – the first ‘the official future’ speaking to the stakeholder version of the city and presented to investors, business and international audiences. The second draws on deep-seated tropes about black and white interpretations of the city which have long historical lineages and currency: Protestant/Catholic, Rangers/Celtic, ‘Red Clydeside’/’Second City of Empire’, and many more.
What is missing and needs to be given voice
Profoundly missing from both versions is understanding their partiality, selectivity and even caricature and degree of simplification of complex, nuanced trends. They represent problem versions of the city, validating inaccurate takes and ignoring much of the city and its many realities. They ignore the Glasgow of paradox, contradiction, continual change, messiness, multiple identities, and – even to quote from the official discourse of the city council – that ‘People Make Glasgow.’
Glasgow 2040: What will it do?
Glasgow 2040 will bring together the real, lived, varied experiences of Glasgow – by acknowledging the multiple stories, voices and accounts of the city and its citizens that embrace contradiction, paradox, ambiguity, that are multi-layered and continually in flux, being made and remade every single day.
It will explicitly explore and give voice to the Glasgow of its people – in all their different types, cultures, backgrounds, ages and views. And it will embrace the multi-cultural as opposed to monocultural take of the city explicit in ‘the official future’, while recognising that there is more to contemporary city life than this, and the binary opposite of a city facing existential crisis. Rather there are multiple, diverse accounts of the city always in motion and discourse that this project will give voice and form to.
One of the many stories of the city to be explored is of people taking responsibility for their lives and their communities (geographic, identity or service specific) and embracing a culture and practice of self-determination (examples including Galgael, Glasgow Women’s Library, Govanhill Baths and Kinning Park Complex to name but a few). We also imagine that hidden, buried and repressed stories of the city might well emerge which we cannot at the moment anticipate; indeed one of the gauges of success of the project will be to encourage the articulation of buried and submerged accounts of the city.
Glasgow 2040: Delivery
In practical terms the project will:
- Run a series of deliberative discussions and events exploring the many stories of Glasgow;
- These will cover a representative cross-section of the city – geographically, in background and socio-economic groups, alongside those of identity groups and acknowledging diversity;
- As well as this they will go deeper in one specific area of the city – to build long-term relationships and trust and to explore the city, its stories and future and get into different layers of life, experience and the hopes, fears and aspirations of people;
- Engagement will also be respectful and aware that there are many Glasgows – the Glasgows of the mind – and different communities including the many hidden, forgotten and missing Glasgows of past, present and future.
- Specific materials created over the course of the project events will include an array of stories – both emerging directly from events and commissioned stories – which will explore the future of the city.
Impact, Learning and Legacy
Glasgow 2040 will also draw from the lessons and impact of previous projects of change, the city and the story such as Glasgow 2020 that had a significant impact across the city, Scotland and internationally. Related to this it will draw from other world-leading examples of stories, the future and change – such as Helsinki and Finland 2030 – as well as numerous other community storytelling and participative projects across the world. The above materials will be conflated and curated into an archive of the project which will be permanently housed at Glasgow Caledonian University.
A related book will be commissioned drawing from the materials that emerge from events and the stories collected. This publication will be put together by a team led by Dr Gerry Hassan and Prof. Michael Roy and published at the end of the project with a significant commercial publisher. This will allow for widespread dissemination of the project’s findings to key audiences, government and public agencies, people in Glasgow and the wider public. It will also allow the impact and profile of the project to continue long after the formal project has ended.
Glasgow 2040 in partnership with the wider project has the potential to be a major change vehicle for and about the city, cities and how we think about and shape the future.