Let’s help shape the things to come for Glasgow city centre

April 29, 2015

Last year, Creative Clyde supported the OPEN Glasgow hackathon series which covered four main themes to encourage and support ideas to improve the city. Here, Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of Glasgow City of Science, looks at how technology could shape the future of Glasgow’s city centre.

Glasgow-city-center

We take the economic health of our city centre very seriously. It has the largest concentration of business and jobs in Scotland and is Glasgow’s front room to the visiting world – something which was patently obvious during the Commonwealth Games.

Late last year Glasgow Chamber held a two day event that we named Tomorrow’s City Centre (TCC), to dig deep into the technology trends that are shaping the future of the hearts of cities. We wanted to understand how digital technology is changing shopping behaviour, influencing how we entertain ourselves and shifting expectations of the office working place.

Previously we’ve supported the City Council in the publication of a detailed City Centre Strategy and the creation of a City Centre Strategy Board, to make sure the City Centre grows as Glasgow’s primary location for wealth creation and jobs.

You can add to that the city’s success in attracting the Future Cities Demonstrator project, the Chamber’s creation of both the City Centre Retail Association and the Sauchiehall Street Business Improvement District, and the City Council’s achievement in securing a £1.13b City Deal. All of these developments are playing a part in the city centre’s future.

At the TCC event we brought together thinkers from both the American and UK arms of the Urban Land Institute, the Government-backed and London-based Future Cities Catapult, the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde, IBM, BT, John Lewis and a host of business people in Glasgow’s retail, leisure and property worlds for whom the city centre is a critical part of their performance.

In the aftermath of the event, we decided to commission a White Paper in partnership with the Urban Land Institute, summing up the issues raised, which was published in February this year.

The main theme is the impact of technology on consumer behaviours and on investment in the fabric of a city centre. The growth of online shopping is by far the most familiar strand of the discussion, but there are many more, including smart sensor-based infrastructure for managing traffic, lighting or goods delivery and wireless networks which affect how people choose to work.

We start from the premise that our city centre is economically important. Cities have regained their wealth-creating momentum because they bring people together at scale to innovate, create and exchange.  The city centre is the pinnacle of the city effect.  Glasgow’s city centre houses over 150,000 jobs, educates some 40,000 students, entertains 70,000 people on a weekend evening and houses the second-largest retail industry in the UK. Investment pipelines are strong, and last year the City Council published an ambitious plan for its development with the City Deal playing a role in funding future plans.

Our report acknowledges that Glasgow’s City Centre starts from a strong position, so its aim is to understand what might come next by asking those in business and academic life what they are already beginning to see emerge and what they suggest we should do to react.

We’ve seen some massive shifts in the demand for quality office space which has spurred on the International Financial Services District. But the downside has been the rise of vacant space in the upper floors of so many of our impressive Victorian buildings in the old Central Business District.

Can we learn from other cities in bringing space back into use for more living space – we have less than a quarter of the number of people living in Glasgow city centre than Manchester? Can we use space more flexibly and creatively to help smaller business with artisan products or community based social enterprises get established in and around the city centre?

The answer from cities like Melbourne and Newcastle in Australia seems to be yes. Dan Hill from the Future Cities Catapult was especially helpful in setting out some projects that could do that.

There are still some basics to be delivered, not least ensuring that every small business has ready access to broadband – but it’s worthwhile keeping an eye on the future.

What do you think the future holds for Glasgow’s city centre? Have you read the White Paper?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Stuart Patrick is Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce committed to delivering a strong business influence on the development of a growing prosperous city. Stuart joined the Chamber in 2009 and was also appointed as Chairman of Glasgow City of Science earlier this year.