Glasgow Smiles Better According To Former MP

No place for windows.
Glasgow: No place for windows.

A former MP has defended Glasgow’s claim to being one of the top tourist destinations in the world after questions were raised about the effect of city’s social problems. Travel guide, The Lonely Planet named Glasgow as the fourth best city to visit in their ‘Best In Travel 2009′ shortlist, behind only Antwerp, Beirut and Chicago.

Colin McNicol, a retired Labour MP, represented Mount Vernon in the East End of Glasgow throughout the 1990s and is happy that the city is finally getting the recognition he believes it deserves: “Glasgow has a lot to offer tourists. It’s a brilliant city with a unique atmosphere that appeals to all sorts of people and the past twenty years have seen big improvements in social and economic terms. It’s the largest city in Scotland and is within reasonable distance from popular spots like Loch Lomond and has strong transport links to all over Scotland. The city has so much to offer, I don’t find it surprising that The Lonely Planet holds Glasgow in such high esteem.”

Glasgow was the only British city in the top ten but the reaction in the UK has been one of surprise.

Despite the backing of Mr McNicol, critics have pointed out that the city has made little progress in terms of curing its social ills. Some have questioned how Glasgow could be such an attractive holiday destination while it dwarfs even the Gaza Strip and North Korea in terms of poverty.
Although the guide praises the city centre’s shopping experience and the west end’s fashionable pubs, tourists are not encouraged to visit outside of this affluent bubble.

Christopher Harress, from Edinburgh said: “Once you get out of the city centre, it’s just all knives, guns and a generally unpleasant place to be. It’s a rough diamond, Glasgow. But nobody cares to polish it.”

Glaswegians, however, are optimistic of about the direction the city is moving in.

Their city will host the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and several ambitious projects -including a new sports stadium and the extension of the Subway – have been confirmed and tens of luxury hotels will be built to accommodate the expected boom in tourism.

This endorsement by The Lonely Planet, some believe, will help encourage people to visit the city as Glasgow attempts to move into the 21st century.

“I’m pleased that Glasgow has been recognised as one of the top places to visit.” said student, Michael Fern. “Stereotypically, the city has a bad image and anything that changes that is good.”

80 year old, Annie Stewart agreed: “You can’t run down Glasgow for the slums and the crime. Sao Paulo and Beirut can’t be any worse than us. Glasgow’s a great place to visit and live in. You have all the museums and art galleries, and the folk here are friendly: Something that can’t always be said about those from Edinburgh.”

Invisible homeless

Students from all over the UK and rest of Europe are coming to Edinburgh to join the city’s universities as the new semester starts.
The vacancies in halls of residence are limited and students may not meet the criteria and are forced to look into the private sector.

Private accommodation is generally let on Short Assured Tenancy which is a 6 month lease, which barely covers a single semester. After this time students will have to negotiate with their landlord whether or not they can renew their lease or have to return to house hunting. Considering the effort required to find a house, together with the cost of moving house, where the landlord at times demands 2 months rent in advance. For some people, not only for students, might create a helpless situation.

Shelter, The housing and homelessness charity, revealed in the Scottish annual report in 2006 that 8% (4,373) of homeless applications is due to loss of private sector tenancy. 

Applications that were considered homeless were either; homeless, or likely to become homeless within 28 days; they were only able to stay where they are temporarily, or, they can not stay in their home because of violence, overcrowding, poor conditions or serious financial problems. Reasons that are real to many of Edinburgh’s students today. Being homeless is defined by Shelter as “without somewhere warm, safe and secure, somewhere you can welcome friends; receive post; or carry out many other aspects of daily life.”

This according to Shelter’s statistics from 2006, is affecting thousands of families and individuals each year.
People who are homeless may have a roof over their head but are living either in hostels, bed & breakfast or in overcrowded conditions.

With over 40,000 homeless households in Scotland and thousands of people stuck in temporary accommodation, the charity said this was no time to be nonchalant about the problem of homelessness and a lack of housing.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, warned that without a major boost to the supply of affordable rented housing, Scotland could see a rise in the already substantial backlog of households stuck in temporary accommodation.

Is it time for universities and local governments to open their eyes and look for solutions?

Developments encroach upon the meadows.

The historic Edinburgh meadows site is, yet again, being encroached on by modern developments, this time by  student housing giants Unite.   In the face of corporations buying out this public land the main source of protest comes from a group of local flatmates on the social networking site Facebook.

Starbucks, Sainsbury’s and Peter’s Yard coffee house have already moved in underneath modern glass fronted executive housing developments on middle meadow walk with ancient trees being pulled down to make way for outside cafe seating.

Student housing giants Unite initially proposed to build a new development directly on the meadows but after objections only the front door of one student residence will sit on the site itself. Unite have been criticised in the past for building student flats which are poorly constructed and date quickly while still charging over the going rate for rent in Edinburgh – on average between £450 and £750 per student.

The ‘Save the Meadows!’ group was started by flatmates living in a property bordering the meadows.  Made up of both students and professionals they felt that over development in the vicinity of the meadows threatened both an important historical site and a way of life enjoyed by many in the capital.

Initially the group included only the flatmates who set it up but it has now grown to over 3.5 thousand members with a link to an online petition which as so far garnered nearly 500 signatures.

The petition details yet more issues with the new developments with petitioners being asked to sign to show their objection to:

“council-approved plans to build a huge glass and metal complex of student flats facing directly onto World Heritage Site, the Meadows. We believe that the so-called ‘negligble’ destruction of ancient trees is unethical at best, that the corporate babysitting of students undermines their independence”

The risk to diversity within the Tollcross is also highlighted as this will be the 6th exclusively student housing scheme within the area leading to fears that this area of the city will become dominated by students and adversely affect the non student community.

The meadows is an area which has long been an integral part of life in Edinburgh, providing a welcome retreat from city life.  In the face of these issues the main objection comes from locals using Facebook, the most popular social networking tool of the moment, something we are all able to add our voice too.

Destination: Edinburgh, Scotland

"On a clear day, you can see for miles from the top of Edinburgh Castle. It's the perfect way to see the city from above!"

Crisp morning air and the wind briskly sweep across your face. The smell of fresh brewed coffee and baked goods linger as you walk the morning streets to hop on board a city bus. A glance at the sky reveals clouds in the distance, but a grandeur castle gleaming in the sunlight. Gradually, the streets become crowded with tourists, children running off to school, and the daily adventures of city life begin for yet another day in Edinburgh, Scotland.

For many, this description may seem unreal or too picturesque. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and as a young, university student from northern Pennsylvania in the United States, I assure you Edinburgh can be described as nothing less then magnificent. In my home country, I attend a small, private liberal arts institution where I will earn my Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Communication and Writing.

I arrived in Edinburgh over one month ago, and choose this city because of my sincere interest in learning, exploring, and living Scottish culture and society. Intrigued by Scotland’s history, I immediately knew Edinburgh would be a fantastic destination for a study abroad experience.

Most importantly, according to an online study abroad web site, “Studying abroad may be that defining moment in your education that will change your life.”

“So what it is it like to be an international student in Edinburgh?” This answer could easily vary depending on the student, but for me it can only be described as an adventure of a life time. No day is ever the same and each day promises new experiences full of laughter and excitement. Of course, a study abroad experience for an international student can only be worth what the student makes of it.

The social scene is one of the best. From late nights at the pubs to football matches and attending theatrical productions at the Edinburgh Playhouse, the city has so much to offer young students. The city holds vibrant historical and modern day attractions which serve as excellent educational learning opportunities. Many businesses offer discounts to students, which helps save money and cut costs.

Classes are taught on an informal basis and allow one to work on developing interpersonal and group work skills. The focus for education is on exploring your interests and taking classes that will teach you the skills and qualities needed to perform in the rapdily changing twenty first century.

Learning to navigate the city does not take long and the public bus system is the primary source for transportation. However, chaotic road work currently crowds the streets. This is a bit tedious at times; especially when you are in a hurry.

Through living in the city and attending classes at Napier University, I have been exposed to a whole new way of life and gained a significantly stronger understanding and appeciation for cultural differences. I have established close networks of friends from all over the world.

Best of all, you can never go hungry. Fish and chip shops are everywhere.