Let Glasgow Flourish

When the great novelist Daniel Defoe author of and Robinson Crusoe visited Glasgow in the early 18th Century he pronounced it 'the cleanest and beautifullest and best built city in Britain, London excepted', and soon enough Glasgow was known as 'The Second City of the British Empire'.

No mean city

But bust surely followed boom, and by the second half of the twentieth century, after two World Wars and the Great Depression had wrought all they could, Glasgow, like much of the rest of the world, was ailing: crumbling tenements, rusting cranes, disused shipyards, poverty, unemployment and overcrowding; this was the hangover from the Victorian's champagne gala which ran for nearly a century. Glasgow became, in the words of one its laureates William MacIlvanny, 'the city of the stare.' No mean city.

As any Glaswegian will tell you, their hometown shook off that particular stereotype as long ago as the early 1980's and today the no-mean-city image of Glasgow is perhaps only still believed by a handful of elderly ladies in Hampstead, the kind who believe that civilisation ends at the top of the Northern Line. Nowadays, finally, the rest of the world is beginning to believe what the locals have known for some time now: that Glasgow is one of the most cultured, cosmopolitan and increasingly affluent cities in the world.

Shopping, Learning and Wall Street on the Clyde . . .

The three areas of shopping, further education and financial services have all played a key role in Glasgow's regeneration. Central Glasgow is now arguably the strongest retail sector in Britain outside of London. The so-called 'Golden Z' the two-and-a-half mile long area formed by the intersection of Buchanan Street, Sauchiehall Street and Argyle Street houses an incredibly diverse and vibrant selection of retailers and today locations in the area are so sought after that Buchanan Street now has the seventh highest shop rental fees in the world.

The Gothic spire of Glasgow University, designed by George Gilbert Scott, has dominated the western half of the city since the Victorian era (although the university itself dates back much further to the early fifteenth century, making it the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world. Only Oxford, Cambridge and St. Andrews pre-date it), and Glasgow continues to be an unparalleled centre for learning, drawing huge numbers of international students to the city. Glasgow now has four universities (Glasgow, Strathclyde, Paisley and Caledonian) and ten further education colleges, as well as the world-famous Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and Glasgow School of Art, all of which play a major role in attracting thousands of overseas students to live and study in Glasgow: today the city's student population is estimated at 168,000, the largest in Scotland and the second largest in the UK, and an important economic boost to the region.

The area just to the west of the city centre, around Blythswood Hill and Anderston, houses Glasgow's burgeoning financial district: one of the fastest growing employment sectors in the country and now the largest financial district in the UK after London and Edinburgh. Between 1998 and 2001 the city's financial services industry grew at an astonishing rate of 30% and today eight out of the ten largest general insurance companies in the UK have a base or head office in Glasgow, including Direct Line, AXA and Norwich Union, along with prestigious investment banking companies like JP Morgan, Barclays Wealth and Morgan Stanley. All of which has led the Scottish press to irreverently nickname the area 'the square kilometre' or 'Wall Street on the Clyde.'

Lights, Camera, Action!

Thanks to its diverse locations grand Victorian architecture, rundown high-rise flats, derelict industrial sites and acres of green parkland Glasgow is increasingly becoming a star of the silver screen. The city's popularity with filmmakers brought 13 million into the Scottish economy last year, with movies like , Hallam Foe, and Andrea Arnold's Red Road which won the grand jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival all having sequences shot in and around Glasgow. (Not to mention TV favourites like and Rebus, which are shot almost entirely on location in the city.) And the trend looks set to continue; four feature film productions have already confirmed they'll be shooting in Glasgow in the coming year and nine others are in the pipeline.

Conference City

Another vital source of revenue for any dynamic, modern city is hosting international conferences. Here, too, Glasgow is flourishing, with conference spending in the city more than quadrupling in the past decade; up from 15.6 million in 1999 to 70 million last year. Conference accommodation now accounts for one in five hotel occupancies in Glasgow City Centre. Towards the end of last year Glasgow beat fashionable Milan in its bid to host the International Astronautical Conference in 2008 and win out over Prague and Istanbul to secure the 2012 European Congress on Immunology. As Scott Taylor, chief executive of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, says 'When you are up against Paris, Madrid or Barcelona nobody expects Glasgow to win this sort of business. But we have beaten them all, and we will do it again.'

Into Tomorrow

Indeed, in terms of UK cities, Glasgow's economic growth rate of 4.4% is now second only to that of London. In 2005 alone over 17,000 new jobs were created, and 2006 saw private investment in the city reaching 4.2 billion pounds, an increase of 22% in a single year. Steven Purcell, leader of Glasgow City Council says, 'We're now outperforming our competitor cities across the UK, with a vibrant, diverse economy which is attracting record investment and, in turn, creating record numbers of new jobs . . . this is outstanding news not only for Glasgow, but the west of Scotland.'

Giving the key-note address at the State of the City Economy Conference last year Scottish Enterprise's Stuart Patrick said that 'A lot of work has been going on over the past decade to improve the city's performance. We're now in the position where we can really start to look at moving the city up the international wealth league tables.' Future plans for Glasgow include improving the physical infrastructure of the city centre and more development along the Clyde waterfront, indeed the regeneration of the Clyde has been declared a national priority.

Glasgow Airport is also set for huge development; with improved rail links to the city centre set to open in the near future, the terminal, which already handles over a million passengers a month making it easily Scotland's busiest airport is on course for nearly 300 million worth of investment over the next decade: a project that will bring thousands of new jobs to the Glasgow area.

John Gallacher, the Chairman of the Glasgow Economic Forum predicts that the next ten years 'offer the best chance in a generation to drive success faster and further and to realise our vision of a world-class city.' Factor in Glasgow's glowing bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games and it looks like it is a vision that is fast becoming a reality.

'Let Glasgow Flourish.' The city motto has never sounded so appropriate.

VisitScotland: Plan your trip to Glasgow

Last updated 28 Nov 2012