Humane irreverence more than the big ships, Glasgow's greatest export...
It was travel writer H.V. Morton who called Glasgow the city of reality in his 1929 book In Search of Scotland. That hasn't changed as, essentially, Glaswegians haven't changed. They are down to earth people with both the hard edge and the humour that that phrase suggests. There's nowhere quite like Glasgow. It's real. It makes an impact. And it's certainly one of the friendliest places on earth. You cant be standing at a bus shelter for more than five minutes before someone engages you in conversation. Glaswegians love to talk. And they love a bit of earthy wit. Comedian Billy Connolly is one of the city's most famous sons and there's a bit of Billy's sharp but good-natured tongue in every true Glaswegian.
The roots of this probably originate in the vast influx of Highlanders and Irish into the city in the days of the Industrial Revolution when the ancient, medieval university town of 2000 inhabitants mushroomed along the banks of the River Clyde to become the greatest ship-building city in the world and the Second City (after London) in the days of the British Empire.
The British Empire, of course, is long gone, and so too has the great industry that was the backbone of the Victorian city's vast mercantile wealth, but Glasgow is a city that has, in many ways, re-invented itself and experienced a renaissance in the last couple of decades. Indeed, just recently Conde Nast Traveller voted Glasgow as the UK's favourite city, beating last year's winner, London, to the post. The city was singled out for its people, its hospitality and its lively nightlife. The Lord Provost, Liz Cameron, hailed the poll as fantastic news and said, "A lot of people have worked very hard to transform Glasgow in recent years and this is evidence of how successful we've been."
This is not a bad achievement for a city which is transforming itself from its traditional heavy industry base, and which today has a population of just under 600,000 making it the fourth largest city in the UK. Maybe its little wonder then that a city with a huge urban landscape and a vast infrastructure of services to administer along with a capacity for transformation should choose to focus its theme for the Six Cities Design Festival on how design from paper clips to public spaces can transform the quality of life by solving problems of function and process and enhancing urban spaces.
Glasgow today, to some extent, still has a Victorian face with many grand buildings of that era and graceful parks like Kelvingrove and the Botanic Gardens. However, there's been a tremendous amount of architectural development and since 1990 when Glasgow was the European City of Culture it has become renowned for its flourishing culture and design and in 1999 the city was crowned as the UK's City of Design and Architecture.
Glasgow has a legacy of a dozen or so superb buildings designed by the world-famous architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) including Glasgow School of Art, The House for an Art Lover (which now houses the ultra-modern Digital Design Studio) and The Willow Tea Rooms in Sauchiehall Street. This has not inhibited the new wave of architects rather it is an inspirational backdrop. Indeed, an early Mackintosh building the Lighthouse (originally for The Herald newspaper) has been given a new lease of life as Scotlands Centre for Design and Architecture perfectly blending styles from different ages. But there are stunning new buildings too, like the Armadillo Concert Hall and Conference Centre, the enlightened Science Centre (both a superb building and interpretation centre), the Royal Concert Hall and many residential, leisure and retail sites.
These buildings suggest a thriving cultural and commercial life. Indeed both art and shopping act as huge magnets to the city not only nationally but internationally. The Royal Concert Hall is well served by three major classical companies based in the city - the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera. It is also the chief venue for the massively popular Celtic Connections, a unique winter festival that provides a platform for the rich and varied brand of new wave Celtic music, much of which hails from the Scottish Highlands and Islands. The city also hosts many major rock and pop concerts.
Mackintosh's School of Art has seen many a major artist leave its doors and Glasgow is best known for painters who work in a figurative style. There are some excellent art galleries including the Gallery of Modern Art, the CCA, the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery and The Burrell Collection.
Like any city with a real buzz, Glasgow has several major writers of international repute: James Kelman, Liz Lochhead, A.L. Kennedy, Janice Galloway, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan, William McIlvanney and Anne Donovan amongst them. And the best way to get under the skin of contemporary Glasgow is to read some of their work. Many of these writers have close associations with Glasgow University, which was founded in 1451 to become Scotland's second seat of learning after St. Andrews. The University contributes enormously to the intellectual life of the city and indeed to international research. Today it is joined by Strathclyde University (which has a high profile in the business world), Glasgow Caledonian University and many Higher and Further Education institutions and first class schools.
Glasgow is home also to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Scottish actors of course have gone far, storming the boards of London theatres and taking lead roles in Hollywood blockbusters. But the city's own theatrical life is rich indeed, boasting the unique Citizens Theatre, the internationally orientated Tramway and the first class production house The Tron. BBC Scotland also has its headquarters in Glasgow, with an enviable drama output fed and supported from home-grown writing and acting talent.
But it's not only cultural riches and diversity that gives the city a pulse. Glasgow today is known as a fashion centre and it's a brilliant place to shop, eat out and dance the night away. Up-market shopping is concentrated around the newly developed Merchant City, Sauchiehall Street, Princes Square, Buchanan Galleries, the Italian Centre and Byres Road. There may no longer be an Empire of which to be the second city but Glasgow today is well known as the UK's second biggest retail centre after London. With all of this going for it maybe, for once, the marketing slogan of Glasgow: 'Scotland with style' is apt.