Category: culture

Regeneration in Dumfries

 

How we can create confidence in our future”

The lessons we can learn from Glasgow and Edinburgh

How parts of the town centre look today

town-centre
Mid-Steeple and the High Street
vennel
Friars Vennel
high-st-infill
The North end of the High Street with Burns statue

Dumfries town centre has a mix of building styles, ages and types. Some re-developed buildings have a modern appearance, while others are more traditional.   A varied streetscape is created from buildings with a mixed appearance. Some individual buildings and vistas are pleasing, distinctive and make a strong contribution to the identity of the town. Property maintenance standards vary. Efforts have been made to improve the quality of public spaces, to improve the ground surfaces and to provide appropriate street furniture.
The businesses are a fairly typical retail mix. Towards either end of the High Street are two department stores. They are located in re-developed, modern buildings. These bigger shops and the Loreburne Centre act as  anchors and contain the main retail shopping area. The Loreburne Centre has a covered, indoor shopping arcade and shops which face directly onto the High Street.

southergate-centre
Southergate Centre

Re-development is proposed at the Southergate Centre.

Problem or opportunity?
UK shopping has changed. While this is reflected in a changed business mix, empty retail shops are more commonplace in many towns.
Despite several recent expensive efforts to improve things, parts of Dumfries town centre in and around the High Street continue to look neglected. There is a perception that some nearby towns have been able to manage things better. Amid expressions of concern, there is a wish for clarity on the best way to improve things.

If people no longer wish to use the town centre so much for retail shopping, what else could the area be used for? Who should control and regulate the use of this space – government, property owners, the public or a balanced mix? Should the town centre be re-purposed? What other town changes might also be necessary, and how should any new projects be balanced and managed? How would it be a better place for local people to use? What part should tourism and visitor attraction play? Crucially, how do we build agreement and make progress? Lastly and most important, who should pay for all this?
As an artist, and interested in visual things, I also hope for a solution which looks good and works well.

Other considerations
There is little housing in the town centre but a lot to the south and west. The Georgian town houses are now mostly offices. Near the town centre there are many Victorian buildings and a good deal of later, in-fill development. There has also been plenty of new housing in the suburbs. Lots of people clearly want to live in Dumfries.

There are two Scottish Tourist Board 3-star hotels close to the High Street and others a little further out. Dumfries has a profusion of other hotels and Guest Houses.
Close to the town centre are two cinemas, a refurbished theatre and a leisure centre. There are also a primary and secondary school at the northern edge.
While the town Centre is fairly busy during the day, at night, apart from the town centre pubs and night clubs, it is mostly unused.
Now lets compare Dumfries’s situation with that of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

How Glasgow has Changed
Glasgow was once a great manufacturing city. Now the shipyards are few, and the docks, steelworks, railway works and similar manufacturing industries have gone.
Thousands of workers jobs were lost.
When Glasgow lost these jobs, it also lost some of its self confidence and the city faced an uncertain future. Today a different and prosperous Glasgow is being made, perhaps symbolised by buildings such as the Armadillo, the Hydro and the tall new offices and hotels rising over the city centre. People may argue about how to continue to change Glasgow for the better, but I suspect there are not many who would argue that a corner has been turned in Glasgow’s history. Its a city which has acknowledged that some old industries and some of the old ways have gone. The past has, to some extent, been let go. Treasured bits are cherished and remembered, that’s an important thing to do. We shouldn’t deny the past, we acknowledge it.
Glasgow signalled its intention to move forward in a key event, the Garden Festival of 1988, and then won the City of Culture award in 1990. The garden festival was a strange experience. It was more a garden of curiosities, some of which had links to Glasgow’s past.

festival gateway
strange-gateway
gateway, exhibit and housing

 

 

 

 

 

autogyro-for-web
1930’s autogyro

Many exotic structures- a tower, a roller coaster, giant teapots and others, posed alongside Shona Kinloch’s witty sculptures of Glasgow Dogs.

wee-fat-dug
wee fat dug
dog-for-web
sniffing dug

The festival was a great success.

Now Glasgow is facing the future not the past, and is a shopping, event and tourist destination.

 

renfield-street
Buchanan Street shoppers

Its also still a busy place, and a place to do business. Glasgow is still a manufacturing centre. The riverside, so long derelict, is transforming, and some of the business and work focus of Glaswegians has moved to new places in the city or around it.
Now many people from Dumfries use Glasgow in preference to their own town for weekend shopping, such is the attraction. Crucially, Glasgow is now an all year round tourist destination.
Change in Edinburgh
Similarly in Edinburgh we see a year-round tourist industry which has become so successful that it almost swamps the city.

shoppers on Princes Street

Efforts are already in place to spin-off some of this tourism into other parts of Scotland. So how do we move forward in Dumfries?

Bringing change to Dumfries using History, Heritage and Archaeology
Our possible way forward may be to capitalise on the history of the town, on figures such as Bruce, Burns and Barrie. Their lives are interwoven with Dumfries’s past. They already have a presence here and we can build on that.

composit-1-bruce

 

composite-3-burns

barrie
The Moat House where JM Barrie played as a child, the inspiration for Peter Pan

History and walking tours might be added to fixed museum or visitor type presentations. The Whitesands leading to the Burns centre at the Millhouse and Camera Obscura lend themselves to this kind of experience.  We could develop High Street visitor centres to interpret each of their stories, and use these centres to refer to whatever existing structures can be found in the town. Perhaps we could offer re-enactments and re-interpretation in place of hard historical or archaeological structures. Such events as the passing presence of Bonnie Prince Charlie and an interpretation of the Georgian architectural area, or the John Paul Jones Story could add variety and depth to the perception of the town and also offers the chance to link to existing visitor centres locally and elsewhere in Scotland.

We know from visitor surveys that Scotland’s history attracts and motivates almost a third of Scotland’s tourists. Fifty million people across the world now claim Scots ancestry. In an uncertain world Scotland is a safe visitor destination. Let’s not forget our European neighbours either. Scotland’s profile is high at the moment. We are in favour. If we refurbish our town centre and present carefully to all our visitors, we should do well.

Private sector investment is the key ingredient to all this. Private funding would be needed to help create a tourist friendly infrastructure such as good new central hotels and amenities, restaurants and suitable entertainment and a cafe culture and/or night life. A new core could exist alongside existing businesses. Shopping would need to be re-purposed to reflect both tourist and local needs. To what extent can we re-use the existing building stock and involve local businesses?

As Edinburgh and Glasgow have shown, tourism is now an all-year event. If just a few more of those visiting Edinburgh or Glasgow could be coaxed into visiting Dumfries for a few nights then that would make quite a change. Let’s also not forget that Edinburgh is booming. It is a great business centre. If we were successful down here with more tourism, what sort of people and businesses would we attract?
We could also add to other growth initiatives already in place.

We might signal this change to others and to ourselves just as Glasgow did. A one-off iconic festival on a Dumfries theme might precede and pave the way for change. We could manage this fairly soon and it might help with drawing business interest in redevelopment.

Lets face the future with confidence.

D

The Luxembourg Gardens, stress free Paris D

Our first visit had been in late September. It was a warm, dry day and began with a challenging morning, navigating across Paris to see Le Corbusier’s studio. The tourist directions were imprecise. Several streets and half an hour later, we were climbing the seven flights of stone stairs to see the apartment on 24 Rue Nungesser et Coli, near the western edge of the Peripherique.

It was worth the climb, as we and about 40 Chinese architecture students, discovered. Not much was being said, but everyone was looking really hard, judging, evaluating, admiring and remembering it all.

We remembered features like that little grey spiral staircase that leads to the roof terrace or the huge asymmetric pivoting room dividers. A very special place.

Back in the centre of Paris, we had had a quick lunch. Then, for the first time, we went into the Luxembourg gardens by the gate on the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

The gardens sit close to the Sorbonne on one side and Montparnasse on the other.We walked, surrounded by people both coming and going, down a broad avenue under a canopy of tall trees whose leaves were beginning to go brown. You could have been in a painting by Renoirpark-cafe

Originally built for Marie de Medici in the 16th century, and in Italian style, what was once only for royalty is now free for everyone. People have made this space their own, for this park has been much altered, changed, and added to.

It is a place with a great sense of space, elegance and style. People go there to take a break from shopping, business or study and to relax and to enjoy the company of others. Its a great place to people watch.

It is very much a planned park with an axial layout from the pond and Senate building to the north down to the Observatory gate to the south. It has many individual, even quirky features including an “English Garden” with broad, curved gravel paths and glimpsed vistas in the South-West corner.

There are touches of formality which mingle with informality, for groups can sit on patches of grass on the long axis to south, near the children’s play area. Otherwise there is no walking or sitting on grass here.

Instead, this Paris garden has something better to offer, chairs! Chairs in profusion, of different shapes for sitting up, for reclining and even for putting your feet upon. Sturdy, hefty metal chairs which you can arrange in any number or way you want, so if there’s three of you or eight of you, you can suit yourselves as to how you fix the arrangement. None of your British style fixed park benches here. Citizens and visitors alike get to choose where they sit. The garden’s most enviable feature is the ease with which ordinary people relax and luxuriate in such splendid surroundings.

general-view

At what I like to think is the centre of the gardens, there is a large octagonal pond with a central fountain, surrounded by a broad circular walkway. Here there are fancy and beautiful flower borders of great variety which are close to the paths.

On both sides there are broad flights of steps leading up to balustraded terraces, topped with big floral urns. The walkways round the pond have good sized palms and oleanders growing in very large Versailles tubs, punctuating the space and offering small pools of shade. These broad, very grand terraces also have a number of sculptures, some of which are very beautiful. A natural arena is formed, and this is a very popular place, with plenty of people coming and going. Amongst this, the gardeners go about their work, pruning and tending the trees and borders.

To the north of this is the Palais du Medici, the home of the French Senate and a seat of Government business. From its northern entrance, on the Rue de Vaugirard, black government cars come and go.

We were sitting below the terrace under a palm, when we faintly heard the sound of a band playing in the distance. So, along with various others, we moved towards the sound, found seats, brought them over and sat to listen. Again we were positioned comfortably, this time under dappled shade, a little distance from the bandstand. The music combined with the setting to give a feeling of perfect contentment. People would walk by, hesitate, then pull up a seat and listen. Just as freely, some rose to leave.

Every time the band stopped, the bandmaster stood up and solemnly and at some length addressed the crowd, but we couldn’t hear a thing as he had no microphone. Then he would sit down and the band in their dark blue uniforms with silver buttons, would start up again. It was very funny, and the audience were quietly amused.

view from the Pavillon de la Fontaine cafe
view from the Pavillon de la Fontaine cafe

After a while we felt thirsty, and spotted the Pavillon de la Fontaine Café where you can eat or drink. Its very popular, quite costly, but very good and fairly close to the bandstand. It has outdoor seating, with umbrellas, and its another great place for people watching. As the long, hot afternoon wore on towards evening, like many others, we had found the perfect spot, the temperature was just right. We were sitting in a little crowd in open shade under tall trees while one of us had a glass of beer and the other a glass of wine. We were talking about the morning’s visit, comparing notes and photographs. It was so comfortable that seven o’clock came round before we knew it. The conversation turned to dinner. Where to eat, and would it be necessary to book a table?

So a slow journey then, past the children still in the sandpit at the Observatory end, past the office workers hurrying home, and back up over gently rising ground towards the sound of Paris traffic, towards Montparnasse and our hotel.   

 

evening in montparnasse
evening in montparnasse

D

D What does it mean to be Scottish and European?

An introduction to this occasional blog

For me as a schoolboy studying higher Art in the 60’s, Europe was about the architecture of classical Greece and Rome.

For me as an Art teacher in a Scottish Secondary School it meant Art Nouveau in Scotland Vienna, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
It also meant two trips with school kids to Venice to see some of the best of European art and architecture from the late Gothic and the Renaissance.

But Modernism and the International style were the things which I found more relevant to the way we live, to making Art and to Designing. Of course as a teacher, there was always also the influence of the Bauhaus, with the magnetic pull of it’s teaching methods and its achievements.
As I studied Modernism and read more deeply about it, I realised it was much more than just a “cool” look. It was in fact underpinned by great ideas, a way thinking and a philosophy, and that these ideas were European ideas, not British. For Modernism and its ideas found little comfort in the Britain of the Empire.
Instead, these ideas about architecture and design popped up in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Czechoslovakia the 1920’s and 30’s before the Nazis came to power. These same ideas then found their way to America and flourished there.

Now today in Europe and America some exceptional buildings in this style survive. Some have been painstakingly restored and can now be visited.
And these visits are a revelation, for they showcase the best that can be done – we can see genius at work.
Nor is it just about the buildings themselves, but about wider the communities in which they are located. It’s also about the complex social organisation and daily life of European towns and cities today.
This then, is quite a different European experience to two weeks on a beach in the sun. But there’s something else. For knowledge of these buildings also poses questions for us, such as “How do we in Scotland ensure our cultural connections with such beautiful and desirable European ideas?” “How can we show people what’s out there?” “How can we share our appreciation of this fantastic stuff?”. And, of course how can we continue to do this in the midst of British political indifference, even hostility?
And also, why should we put this connection at risk? This thought coupled with the feeling that having the right European connection may also depend on moving towards Scottish Independence.
So I do declare my preferences. Brexit is not for me!

The posts and videos on this site, record something of my reaction to what I found In Europe, whether about Art, Music, Performance, Film or Design. Occasional blogs are added from time to time.
As for travelling there and having a look for yourself?
I would recommend it to anyone!

D