....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Monday, 9 May 2011

Govan - crossing the threshold

Last Wednesday saw my first invited venture into the community that lives by the Clyde at Govan - I first met with Lesley McGregor who works for Govan Housing Association and has the enviable brief of 'being the person that helps support good things in communities' Lesley explained a about how she develops projects and also that the official name of the area of housing that I am working is Clydeview - but that the specific group of housing is called Riverside. Together we then visited Riverside Halls where we met the manager Davy Patterson, neighbourhood chairperson Deirdre Gaughan and GHA project manager Drew Glaister (Drew is responsible for overseeing the overall environmental improvements package at Riverside)

We talked about the activities in the Halls – which has a full programme every day. I was there during the older peoples Wednesday Lunch club – more that 50 people were eating mince and tatties (Lesley and I got a plate too) before their bingo session. Davy warned me that, if I wanted to talk to this group, I should avoid the bingo session…..I looked in as we left – the concentration was awesome.

People leaving Riverside halls after the Wednesday lunch club and Bingo
We talked about the history of the housing – Deirdre has lived at Riverside since it was first built, she estimated that this was 34 years ago.  Knowledge of the history of the site before the housing was pretty sketchy, though people were sure that a shipyard had been here previously and everyone knew the story of a crane driver whose crane had overbalanced, fallen into the river and the driver had drowned.

This was really just a first introduction - but I immediately struck by how active the Halls are in the community and the resilience of the community in difficult circumstances. One of the first issues that is mentioned with regard to landscaping proposals is the 'rat run' - there is no through route for vehicles through the housing and people running from the police often duck into the housing to evade officers who are giving chase in patrol cars.

Rat Run route in red

We made plans to meet up again and I left to spend more time walking in the area. Drew was also walking around checking on the progress of work in progress – we had several more chats….he mentioned the issue that I’d wondered about in my first visits ie the apparent lack of ‘ownership’ of the areas immediately out with the entrances to the flats. Drew defined this as a lack of ‘defensible space’ (adding that this was probably an old-fashioned concept!) …what I understood him to mean was that there was no defined change from totally ‘public’ territory to the ‘private’ territory behind the front door of the flats. It seemed to me that there could definitely be a case for new additions that could signal a boundary in advance of the front doors. Though obviously anything that blurs boundaries could become be open to misuse…but, on the other hand, the current situation leads to a feeling that this is a community under siege who are only secure behind their front doors.

When I lived in a squat in East London in the early 1990s we had a house cat and a cat flap. The area was home to innumerable feral cats who quickly discovered the cat flap – poor Bess’s territory quickly shrank until she was effectively restricted to the sofa in the living room. The cat flap had to go.

I spent some time looking at the entrances to the housing…in particular the bottom of Water Row, this is where people coming to see the new Museum will arrive – what will be the messages that the environment will give them? What message do the residents want to give to these new visitors? The waterside walk is very much a public space, there are interesting places in the distance (eg the tower beside the Science Museum) – people will be intrigued to walk along the Clyde…..but the fences at the end of the housing prevent further access along the river and to continue their journey people will have to navigate through the estate. There may be a case for establishing a public route through Riverside to link the path along the Clyde to the Graving Docks and to the Media Quarter beyond.


'Entrance to the New Museum' - this is the bottom of Water Row...to the left is the settlement of Showpeople and to the right is Riverside housng...in the centre is the new museum


The waterside walk is very much a public space, there are interesting places in the distance (eg the tower beside the Science Museum) – people will be intrigued to walk along the Clyde…..but the fences at the end of the housing prevent further access along the river and to continue their journey people will have to navigate through the estate. There may be a case for establishing a public route through Riverside to link the path along the Clyde to the Graving Docks and to the Media Quarter beyond.

Riverside walk - Millenium Tower in distance just to right of closet tree

It becomes clearer and clearer to me that the housing at Riverside has always been effectively a secluded ‘cul de sac’ ie not on a route anywhere and hidden from view from all sides.  This makes it the natural place for people to ‘disappear’ into when they need to hide and is why the public areas have been gradually stripped of anything that could be used to hide behind. One aspect of this secluded status is about to change as the new public spaces around Water Row turn re-define Riverside as one edge of public ‘frontline’ of Govan. 

Blank gable walls face the river


Looking from this perspective it is also noticeable how the flats ‘turn their backs’ on the Clyde – with no windows looking over the river.


Today was a really hot day and the lack of any semi-private spaces out with the flats was further emphasized by people looking for somewhere to enjoy the sun: 

sitting in the sun outside your house 1
sitting in the sun outside your house 2
 Returning home I start to look into some of the Govan that is now hidden - this is an image based on an 18th century sketch from the north side of the river - the earth mound to the left is Doomster Hill a remnant from Govan's past as the court of the kings of Strathclyde in the 7th and 8th centuries AD.

The Riverside housing is on the site of Doomster Hill - compare with the contemporary view:

Govan Riverside from the North bank of the Clyde

Motte of Urr - a similar earthwork to Doomster Hill, near Castle Douglas SW Scotland

I also found this picture of a 'hogback' tombstone in Govan kirkyard. I have visited these world-famous stone carvings many times, but had not seen this picture of one in-situ before it was removed to inside the church (where it can be seen today)


 I love how incongruous the hogback looks next to the later tombstones - it has a presence akin to a submarine surfacing in alien waters. There is also an echo here of iconic Govan images of ships in the shipyards seen at the end of a street of tenements....for sure these will figure later on in this adventure

next blogpost in this series

1 comment: