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

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Just past No-Mans Land

Today I started my day in Govan in Orkney Street. This is Govan famous former police station and jail which has now been converted into a home for various enterprise initiatives in the area. One of the jails most famous former residents was the Nazi Rudolph Hess who flew to Britain on some kind of ‘peace’ mission during the latter stages of WW2 – he landed in the Highlands and was initially taken to Orkney St – wouldn’t you have loved to have heard the talk in the jail that night!
image from a project (Journeymen-urban menu) I worked on in Orkney St Jail before it was redeveloped as an Enterprise Centre
I met with Susan Hanlin at Orkney St, Susan heads up the Central Govan Action Plan (CGAP) who have been responsible for many of the improvements to the public spaces around the Subway and the Shopping Centre. CGAP are part of the large group of agencies that are interested in the future of Water Row. Water Row is one of the iconic places from Govan’s past and connects the centre of the town to the Clyde. Currently Water Row is a temporary carpark (home to a large weekly market) bounded on one side by the Showpeople’s settlement and Riverside housing on the other. The carpark is mostly used by commuters who park there and take the subway into Glasgow city centre. Part of the public transport strategy for the new Museum is that people will take the subway to Govan and then cross the Clyde by the new ferry to the museum…….hence Water Row is very much on everyone’s minds as a key part of the overall picture for Govan and tourism in wider Glasgow.

Susan Hanlin is very interested in the way that the history of Govan can be interpreted in the way that Water Row is developed ….she talked about the group that has formed around Govan Old church and the plans to bring the famous Govan Stones more into the public eye – these stones are housed in the church and are central to Govan’s position as one of the ‘cradles of Scottish Christianity’ alongside Iona and Whithorn. I also learnt a little more about the settlement of Showpeople along Water Row – Susan told me that the settlement had been there for at least 20 years and that many of the people there had long family trees based in Govan. I now have a couple of contacts for this community and hopefully will be able visit soon.

Entrance to the Showpeople community
 At one point in our conversation Susan referred to the area at the bottom of Water Row as ‘no mans land’ – the Riverside housing is therefore set between No Mans Land and the derelict Graving Docks……I wonder once again what it is like to live just beyond No Mans Land? The new museum and the plans for water Row represent a huge shift for Riverside…an opportunity….or an unwelcome intrusion? Suddenly this community which has been on the ‘edge’ will be reconnected to ‘the centre’ on two sides.

View of the new Museum and further up the Clyde to the City Centre - Govan Ferry pontoon visible on right hand bank

My next appointment was with Carol Grant who is the Local Housing Officer (LHO) responsible for Riverside. Carol looks after everything from rent arrears to maintenance to liaising with the police, this conversation was a radical shift in a different direction from speculating about mediaeval Govan with Susan! Carol has to deal directly with the day-to-day issues of the community – key amongst her concerns is that the spaces around Riverside have become a centre for drinking, drug taking and evading the police. This means that the priority for Carol is to reduce the number of ‘places’ locally that are attractive for people to gather to drink etc…ie places where they do not feel overlooked or viewable by CCTV. Carol would like to see the landscaping levelled flat to educe hiding places and many trees taken out so that CCTV cameras are unobstructed. This seemed quite an extreme viewpoint until Carol gave examples of activity at Riverside….the layout of the housing is an interlocked pattern which means that there are no direct routes….rather than going around a building groups of youths will regularly kick in the doors of a building pass through the shared lobby and then kick in the door at the other side – they take a short cut through peoples houses rather than walk around the outside! My jaw hit the table…

Layout of housing at Riverside (blue)

Carol also explained that while Riverside is a stable community with along waiting list for accommodation the majority of the tenants do not have jobs – in fact most have never worked but brought up families on benefits and now those families also live in Riverside. The unique challenges of this situation have never seemed starker to me.

I spent the rest of the day walking in the area an looking for clues to the way things work here and the specific qualities of the environment.

Tree growing out of chimney pots
Glimpses of shipyard cranes
Old graffiti about Orkney Street (when it was a Police Station I'm guessing...)
I'm very interested in the spaces immediately outside the housing at Riverside - ref earlier blogs
I looked for other examples locally of 'defensible space' around housing - railings around a tenement
A combination of wall and bushes cushions the change from public to private space
I also called in on the lovely Helen Kyle (Scotland in Europe) and Moya Crowley (Plantation Productions) who I have worked with in the past…..it was nice to catch up and very quickly the talk turned to Riverside and more potential leads for me to explore and possible people and organisations to work with…….the landscape expands again….

The new Museum visible beyond the Riverside housing
 Seeing this put me in mind of iconic Govan photos I have seen of ships being built behind tenement streets.

This is NOT Govan (it is Barrow in Furness)....I know I have seen similar images from Govan but was unable to find one just now

This set me off on a theme of archetypal shapes and situations repeating themselves in a place....to be picked up in the next blog

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