On my leg there’s a scar. It’s about two inches long, roughly the shape of a badly drawn F. It lives on the back of my right thigh. Sometimes I’ll unconsciously skim my fingers over it, feeling the inward dip of skin and the fibrous knot of patched up tissue at the other end, remembering how I earned it.
I’d been in the woods with the two Michaels, building an ambitious bi-level den in an accommodating old beech, with tools swiped from our collective sheds. It was largely constructed of old fencing, sofa cushions and a single mattress we’d dragged unquestioned with the paradoxical strength that imbues three 9-year-olds on a mission. Turns out council estate kerbside debris is precisely to the decorative taste of a pre-teen gang hut. I was arbitrarily wedging a bit of wood between two branches when I was gracefully ejected from the tree onto the hinge of an old kitchen cupboard door. It bled more than it hurt, and was patched up in secret so as not to provoke a parental intervention into our pressing construction activities.
When I think back to that time, I don’t linger on the scrapes or nettle rash, or even the dicky tummy from unfettered blackberry munching. I overwhelmingly remember being outside. I remember balmy summers that smelled of smoking barbecues and cut grass, fresh and drying in the sun. I was outside, playing with my friends. There was nothing better.
I overwhelmingly remembered being outside, because that was far better than inside. This is a reality for many children across Scotland.
There are few establishments that cause me as much outrage as Glasgow city council. After their unfathomable plan to go all Guy Fawkes on the Red Road Flats, I’m no longer surprised by their clownish missteps and continued social indelicacy. My ability to bridle expletives destined for my screen is continually tested by unsuspecting press releases. As municipal bodies go, they’re currently an easy top of my doing it wrong list.
Just take a moment to ponder that sentence. I challenge anyone with even a semblance of a social conscience – or indeed a grasp of the English language – to miss what’s wrong with this picture.
To contextualise, the area in question is a thriving patch of land at the centre of an ownership tug-of-war for at least the last 20 years. Erroneously billed as a gap site on a planning application, there’s been an active desire to play down the green value to both wildlife and community. There’s been deliberate dismissal of over five hundred trees, wild flowers, grasses and animals. They’ve also erased the fourteen schools and nurseries that use this as an educational space. It’s a convenient rebrand for a developer keen on some prime, inner-city real estate.
But this a bit of Glasgow. No one is under any illusions here. It’s not the land of milk and honey. It’s not even the land of plain breid. It’s a city of tenements and industry, not woods and wildlife. This small patch doesn’t live up to our butterfly flecked vision of twee pastorality, so there’s little point in getting our knickers in a fankle, right?
North Kelvin Meadow is a relatively wee piece of land, and something of an anomaly in its locale. Such a double indictment means it conveniently slips off the radar of those in power to actually do something. But it stands for something far bigger. If we let this slide, we will continue to live in a world where urban greenspace suffers at the beauty myth – if it’s not pretty, it doesn’t matter.
Never mind that these wee bits of grassy interlude provide a backdrop for real living. Or that they provide a space for adventure, in a city where a charity exists to teach kids how to play outside. Never mind that people are most likely to visit green spaces if they’re local, and taking this one away effectively amputates any possibility of wild space play for local urban children. Never mind that places like this help the Scottish Government realise its commitments to people and the environment.
It’s only a wee bit of disused land, eh?
Planners and decision makers need to stop being blinded by eloquent proposals and fat bank balances. You may not be able to pay the bills with memories of picnics, or walks, or dens, or an ugly carrot gleefully rooted up by local toddler, but riches come in the guise of so much more than money.
For most of us – even if you’ve never given it much thought – we know these truths. We know trees are good. We know that nature is important. We get that erasing wild spaces for man-made structures is bad. Yet we do this all the time. We allow this to happen all over and over again, to the point that it barely provokes a quizzical eyebrow. But this isn’t ours to buy or sell or destroy. As that famous quote says, we’re borrowing it all from our children.
This city’s cup does not runneth over with opportunity for the masses. The least you can do is take a moment to think about who really wins and who loses in this repellent game of land monopoly.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Gordon Matheson. You have a duty of care to the people of this city. You, and all those who have a hand in shaping the face of Glasgow’s future. I’ve got a few suggestions:
You could take a moment to apply a bit of emotional intelligence to decision-making. Maybe take 5 minutes out of your day to type ‘Glasgow’ into the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation map. Allow yourself to feel burn of guilt from a patchwork of inky-blue splodges painting your jurisdiction with the colours of the most deprived 5%. You could acknowledge the interconnectedness of inequality and opportunity. You could stop taking from the people who need most.
It’s far easier to ram your fingers 3cm deep into your skull, and hum a wee tune as you actively ignore your position of social responsibility. I’m asking you to brave taking them out, and listen to all the people you’re taking away from.
For the rest of us, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that this is unlikely to happen. So we have to be thrawn. And utterly indignant. And incensed until we tremble, and actually write that email and sign that petition. Because it’s our kids we’ll have to look in the eye as we explain why there’s no space for their kids to play, because we built those flats that are now worth three times the price that even they can’t afford to buy.