Down they will come. Glasgow’s Red Road Flats are being demolished on October 11, having dominated the north-eastern skyline of the city for half a century. Following the destruction of the first two blocks in 2012, the passing of the remaining six is a moment where the whole country should take stock.
The flats are among the more memorable of the post-war public sector housing developments in the UK, perhaps the most iconic of all. Where in the 1960s they represented for politicians a new Glasgow, the tallest public-sector housing blocks in Europe at the time, they soon came to symbolise the failures of modern urbanism.
They became a byword for urban decline, deprivation and unpopular housing, emblematic of the failure in social housing and even part of a wider attack on the welfare state. Look no further than the plan to demolish these tower blocks as part of the opening ceremony of last year’s Commonwealth Games, until it was quickly overturned by widespread protests.
The demolition mission
Red Road’s demise is the latest in a wave of social housing demolitions both in Glasgow and across the UK over the past decade or so. They have become spectacle, creative destruction as entertainment, played out in the media and in countless YouTube clips. Once again we are being asked to join together to celebrate the removal of a blighted and failed urban past, and of course a bright new urban future.
This reflects a widely held antipathy to social housing and its tenants in our culture. Living in these places has been positioned as a “marker of personal failure”. The demolitions represent a view that the state cannot provide – should not provide – housing for rent. These housing developments were born of the Keynseian-Beveridgean welfare state, which many of different political persuasions is best confined to the past. For many, the demolition of the Red Roads is used as an argument that social housing doesn’t work across the UK.
It is time another story was told here.