April 10, 2014
New Entertainment Idea – Blowing Up Homes
With every passing major sporting event the organizers fall over themselves trying to outdo the previous lot. It is supposed to be about spectacle, but the main criteria that seems to count is how much money gets thrown at it. We are talking serious amounts of cash here, with Olympic and Soccer World Cup tournaments, for instance, burning up the billions. It does not always go down too well with the locals either. Just look at the protests in Brazil over the upcoming World Cup. There, not only have huge sums been spent on preparing the venues, but the authorities have also moved into the favellas and tried to make them safer, even clearing huge areas against intense opposition. There have been riots. The opening ceremony will no doubt be a spectacular over-long and ultra expensive riot of colour and that will be the only riot we will see that day.
Now some bright sparks, planning something dramatic for the opening bash of the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow this summer, have upped the stakes in bad taste and insensitivity. This latest idea was trumpeted as “a bold and dramatic statement of intent from a city focused on regeneration and a positive future for its people.” What is this brilliant future-life enhancing statement? The great plan is to blow up a huge chunk of the past with the demolition of five blocks of flats. Of course, the whole event is to be streamed around the world to over a billion people as part of the opening ceremony. Let’s not forget that, however noble sporting events and achievements might be, the opening ceremony is pure entertainment. That is what has caused a growing groundswell of opposition to the planned demolition.
The Red Road flats in Glasgow, which are due to be demolished in the event, have been a familiar sight on the city’s skyline for over half a century. As the opponents of the plan point out, they are not just chunks of masonry and mortar, concrete and steel. People lived there. They brought their families up there and many died there, too. Seeing the final destruction of their previous homes will be a poignant and moving moment for a lot of former residents. Thousands of signatures have been gathered for a petition to Shona Robinson, the Scottish government minister in charge, asking for the idea to be dropped. They are asking that the blocks of flats should be “demolished with dignity” out of respect for those whose lives were shaped there.
In a further twist, it has been revealed that only five of the six6 blocks, which are 28 stories high, will be blown up on the day. The remaining block will continue to be used to house asylum seekers. As the rationale for demolishing the buildings in the first place is that they are no longer fit for human habitation, what message does this send to the world about local and national attitudes to those people in the last block standing? How do they fit into the organisers’ claim of a “future for its people?” Are they not human enough for proper, decent habitation?
The Red Road flats have been controversial from when they were first built as the tallest apartment blocks in Europe. They went on to become associated with deprivation, youth problems, and high suicide rates, even though they provided homes for thousands over the years. Their destruction is necessary and inevitable, but will not put an end to the residents’ memories, good or bad, and says a lot more about the past than the future. This is at best a tasteless idea, at worst a dumb aberration, ignoring the feelings of Glasgow’s citizens with the certainty of bringing the games into disrepute as the event where spectacle overcame common sense and respect. It would be a spectacle for sure, but one the planners may live to regret. The city has a good news story to tell, having spent a billion pounds on housing construction and improvement but this explosion is a disaster waiting to happen.
One final little point that seems to be ignored. Asbestos was used in the construction of the blocks. Some has been removed but, according to some reports, the remainder was just “sealed” in. Let’s hope the dust settles quickly.
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