Archive for May, 2007
How do cities meet the demands of the present without losing the value of their past? John Herring joins Global Gossip with some bold answers in his ‘postcard’ from Bilbao.
In the 1980′s Bilbao was presented with an opportunity when the industry and shipping facilities blocking up the city centre moved out to the river mouth on the coast. Not many cities get the chance of a huge brownfield site bang in the centre.
The Guggenheim Museum: an affront to the past or the spirit of 21st century Bilbao?
And not many city fathers would have the vision to chose a futurist option. The Guggenheim Museum, all waving lines and shiny exterior, stands on the waters edge like an affront to the safe nineteenth century mansions of Bilbao’s past. However, this doodle of a building has been used as a catalyst to reshape the spirit of this city and, arguably, the shape of modern Basque identity.
A trip to Bilbao shows how a city can reinvent itself, given the will, the money and, someone perhaps wielding dictatorial powers? The city still suffers the perennial problem of cars and parking but the building of a metro and the development of a tramway at least shows a willingness to take on this problem.
But this spirit of modernity isn’t being allowed to wipe away the evidence of the city’s past. A new office/residential development is being built inside the old walls of a historic building, showing how the new can grow out of the old.
The focus for Bilbao’s regeneration is the river running through and around it. This feature has been used to create a pedestrian walkway alongside the new tramway.
This trail for people was used prodigiously whilst we were there; people indulging in their regular ‘paseo’, whole families rollerblading, or those hardy, masochistic souls out jogging.
Certainly Bilbao is a city for today’s lifestyle, but perhaps this makes it unique, given that not many people, governors nor populace, would be prepared to see their little world torn down to start anew. The dilemma for the cities of the 21st century is how to drag themselves up to date with peoples current lifestyles without destroying the things that have made them what they are. Can global warming push the ‘cold’ cities of Northern Europe into a more open, outside society?
May 29th, 2007
This is one of those rare days when the sun shines on Scotland while rain drenches the south.
It is no time to be plugged in to the screen.
Goodbye Google. There are weeds to pull, seedlings to pot, flowers to sniff, summer fantasies to dream and serious newspaper reading to be done on our newly positioned bench.
Displaying rare good sense and strong will, I will abandon broadband, switch off my computer and join the birds, bees and frogs in my back garden.
May 14th, 2007
High noon – time for me to take my stand at the polling station. What to wear? Black is a bit funereal but it will show up the red rosette better than my nice new red cardigan.
I am to be on duty at the boys’ old nursery school just down the road. It is a long time since I walked up the lane into the playground and I get a whiff of nostalgia (no really, it is nostalgia), picturing the old days, noticing the new tubs of herbs and young trees. Growing evidence of new spending on education, perhaps.
There are yellow and blue rosettes standing by the entrance. But they look as if they have been pinned to the wrong candidates. “You’re all mixed up”, comments a tall, handsome Australian wearing a wide brimmed leather hat. “You should be in the suit” (the Tory is in a fleece and jeans while the Lib Dem is in a smart navy blue two piece) and to me (unfairly I think) “you should be wearing jeans”.
Disconcertingly the Tory is particularly easy to talk to and the Lib Dem turns out to be married to a Labour voter. By this stage, with all that leafleting and canvassing done, there is nothing left for it but to talk to one another like real human beings.
Luckily there is a real topic of conversation. The Lib Dem candidate is being shadowed by a journalist from Palestine on a British Council funded trip. Hosan (spelling dubious) takes pictures of the steady stream of voters and joins the chat. He is intrigued at the lack of military force. ‘Where are the guns?’ he wants to know, especially when two policemen turn up for their routine check inside. He has a theory that Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent, is being held by a family wanting nothing more than protection against a rival gang.
May 4th, 2007
Never mind the election. There may be a glimpse of real grassroots democracy in the gardens opening to the public in Edinburgh this weekend.
Community schemes and public spaces join hidden private gardens taking part in Edinburgh Parks and Gardens Open Day on May 5. But something particularly interesting is happening behind some of those high tenement walls.
Becky Govier’s transformation of the backgreen beneath her tenement flat in Leith is one of at least five former drying greens worth visiting on Saturday. The others (listed at the end) include Julian Bukits’ award winning space in South Clerk Street.
But let’s start in Lorne Place. With the help of neighbours, Becky has turned her traditional tenement garden – overgrown with ivy, frequented by cats and choked with ramblers and rampant buddleia – into a welcoming space where the washing can still hang out to dry but now neatly cut grass is framed by (low maintenance) borders of perennials, and high sandstone walls are covered with Wisteria, Clematis, Golden Hop, Hydrangea…
It helps of course that the site faces south and has what Becky calls ‘good bone structure’ but a crucial skill lies in nurturing and then maintaining a common interest in gardening. All successful community gardens are a testament to patient (sometimes painful), democratic process. But someone has to take the lead. To my mind the best community gardeners are likely to have considerable people skills too. Becky (a member of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh fundraising team when she is not developing her garden design business Green Edge) began by knocking on neighbours’ doors. The rest is down to setting budgets, acquiring plants, creating rotas and constantly keeping people in touch with what is happening.
As Becky explained when we met for coffee a few months ago: “I have learned a lot in the last few years. Communication is very important.”
Altogether there are 45 parks, gardens, allotments and green spaces to explore on Saturday (see Cockburn Association pdf for full details but here I have picked out the backgreens (and please let me know if I have overlooked any – I would like to visit them all!)
Backgreens open on Saturday May 5
4 Lorne Place – open 2-5pm
Includes a collection of sculptures inspired by nature.
Lothian Buses, 7,10,11,12 13, 14, 16, 22, 25, 49
Chessels Court. Canongate – open 11am-2pm
Lothian Buses 35, 36
60 South Clerk Street – open 10am – 4.30 pm
Lothian Buses 3,5,7,8,29,31,37,47,49
Cherrytree Community Backgreen – open 1-5pm
Lothian Buses 4,44
Wheatfield Community Backgreen – open 1.5pm
Lothian Buses 4,44
May 2nd, 2007
To the Corn Exchange with the hand of history on our shoulders. Last time I was there it was to hear Jurassic 5, a hip hop band with endearing appeal to some of us oldies because of their infectious rhythms, catchy tunes and clever way with words. Tony Blair also knows how to work the crowd, though this time the Corn Exchange is packed with suits instead of street wear and the gentlemen from the press are more interested in the sound bite than the soul.
We have been invited to swell numbers for the cameras I guess. I go along a little reluctantly – I want Malcolm Chisholm to be my MSP and I am not at all sure that having us turn out to cheer for New Labour will do him any good in the constituency of Edinburgh North and Leith. And yet, this is May 1 and Tony Blair’s ten year premiership will soon be part of history so it seems foolish to pass up the chance of seeing him in person for the first (and in this role anyway) last time.
What a performer. There is no doubting his effortless, apparently artless yet beautifully controlled way with words, plus the timing of a stand up comedian. Jack McConnell is surprisingly good too. Nervous to begin with but clearly focused on what Scotland has gained in ten years and what it stands to lose in the next four. (No word unfortunately of the environment and how Scotland could gain from rising to the challenge of climate change.)
Ironically, some of us feel that what Scotland has gained most of all (and that with thanks to Mr Blair) is devolution and a distinctive coalition government which provided protection from the worst excesses of New Labour over the border. So we have investment in education without Academy Schools, spending on the NHS without Trust Hospitals, and we have led the way on free personal care for the elderly and the ban on smoking.
With just the right quiver of emotion, Tony Blair pays tribute to all these and more then ratchets up the tempo to conclude with why the politics of nationalism is wrong: the politics of grievance, of finding someone else to blame; the politics of looking inward when the rest of the world is growing closer together; the politics of division which gets bogged down in retribution for the past instead of looking to the future – ‘give us back our oil, give us back our money’.
For a few moments of what seems to be true passion you see and feel what might have been under Tony Blair. If only it had not been for Iraq.
But you can bet that what the news bulletins will target is the short sound bite that really sets cameras flickering and flashing when the Prime Minister acknowledges that his job will soon go to another Scot. That’s Quality Control in the world of breaking news.
May 1st, 2007