curiosity about the ways of the world

The human city

People Make Glasgow.  The new slogan was revealed after a marketing research campaign that trawled the wisdom of the crowd. Across the city and round the world, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau sought themes and words that summed up  the city.

And though there were moans on Twitter abut the cost of the exercise – “What a waste of £500,000” – the result is not at all bad. I don’t know how much it cost or how Glasgow’s marketing team boiled down the responses to produce those three little words. But People Make Glasgow has more heart and meaning than Scotland With Style the outgoing brand. Or Edinburgh’s soul-shrinking consultancy-created Inspiring Capital.


Castle Street with cars

Edinburgh’s Castle Street: a pedestrian space cluttered with cars

Putting people first seems to echo the forthright and visionary simplicity of Jan Gehl, the Danish town planner who has inspired great cities across the world to give space to people instead of cars: the human city.  Essentially that means understanding that public space cannot be neatly drawn in an architect’s office.  It means getting out into the streets. The happiest and most successful cities provide public space for people to breathe and move and play and meet and have their being.

“First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.” says Jan Gehl.

And it is simply true. People make places what they are. Contrasting Scotland’s two biggest cities you can see that often people go about their daily business despite the best or worst efforts of the folk in the city chambers. Not every town hall has a Jan Gehl to call on – though, oddly, Edinburgh city council did just that  a couple of decades ago and then ignored the ideas he came up with (the Jan Gehl master plan for Scotland’s capital is stuck in a filing cabinet somewhere along with the more recent unfinished one by Sir Terry Farrell).

For all its famous friendliness, Glasgow has plenty of problems – and an ugly, great motorway cutting right through it –  but the town planners seem to understand the importance of pedestrian space and how to create it, enabling what Gehl calls ‘life between buildings.’

buchanan street

Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, paved for people

Walking through the Merchant City last night we saw squares and pavement cafes  inviting the kind of social life Jan Gehl first pioneered in Melbourne and Copenhagen.   Edinburgh has not yet quite got the hang of it.  There are attempts at pedestrianisation – in Rose Street, Castle Street and the Grassmarket – but somehow cars work their way into all of them, spoiling the view, polluting the atmosphere and disturbing the peace.

Could this change? Last year the Festival Fringe reclaimed some of George Street (a beautiful pedestrian street in waiting) by plonking a Spiegeltent right outside the Assembly Rooms. The street came alive, though retailers complained  they lost money. To their great credit Edinburgh city councilors have allowed the street to close to traffic again this August.  Now maybe they can  get rid of Inspiring Capital too.

Royal Mile full of people

Edinburgh’s Royal Mile during the Festival (when the sun always shines)



  1. fay

    Thank you Sian, what a lovely surprise to find you here!

  2. Sian

    Bravo, Fay!

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