Room to grow – by a long stretch.

central belt

Over the holiday period when many news outlets go into ‘standby mode’ some stories appear to fill a gap. One such story was of the spread of the ‘conurbation’ or an extended urban area, typically consisting of several towns merging with the suburbs of a central city.

It has been speculated that eventually, judging by satellite images like the one above, the cities of Glasgow,Edinburgh,Stirling and Falkirk will one day merge to form one mega city. Putting aside the cultural differences of Glasgow versus Edinburgh, salt and vinegar versus salt and sauce, its interesting as the New Year begins to ponder some of the other issues around this subject.

With a population of just 5.5 million Scotland certainly sounds like it has room to grow.

Other so called mega cities around the world have more than 4 times the population than the whole of Scotland.

  • Mexico City, Mexico. 2016 population: 21,157,000.
  • Mumbai, India. 2016 population: 21,357,000.
  • Shanghai, China. 2016 population: 24,484,000.
  • Delhi, India. 2016 population: 26,454,000.
  • Tokyo, Japan. 2016 population: 38,140,000.

Sir Patrick Geddes (2 October 1854 – 17 April 1932) was a Scottish biologist,sociologist, geographer, philanthropist and pioneering town planner. He is known for his innovative thinking in the fields of urban planning and sociology.

It was Geddes who coined the phrase ‘conurbation’ and also came up with the concept of ‘region’ in relation to architecture and planning.

Geddes predicted back in the 1920’s that Glasgow and Edinburgh and surrounding areas would merge into one ‘conurbation’, he even put forward a name , Clydeforth, based on the two main rivers.

Prof Roy Thomson of Edinburgh University, the same academic who said fracking in Scotland was not possible because the geology was ‘all wrong’, backs Geddes’s view by looking at modern satellite images. Geddes went all over the world helping to develop urban planning thinking and a range of concepts based around the relationship between people and places.

Geddes

The mega city concept is a relatively new one not to be confused with the science fiction comic world of 2000 AD and Judge Dredd fame, where the mega city was effectively a prison surrounded by  a  ‘cursed earth’ of radioactive waste. Highlighting the social tensions and conflicts that can arise any large populace.

 

Geddes proposed concepts of how regions could grow and develop around ‘constellations’ of cities forming regional ‘hubs’.His concepts are still very relevant today.

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In a country the size of Scotland there is certainly room to grow and so far evidence shows that the Scottish Government despite their many transport critics have started to put all the arterial routes in place to make Geddes vision a reality. In fact many would say that you could add the whole east coast corridor all the way up to Aberdeen as a potential further urbanisation. With urbanisation however comes a counter effect about rural development and we cannot allow rampant urbanisation and ignore our rural communities.

This is why the so-called Growth Commission will be important in outlining an economic blueprint for a prosperous economy both currently and in a future independent Scotland. This is likely to be unveiled soon and will provide some scoping around the growth already seen by academics in terms of urbanisation.

While this might deal with a gradual move towards a new currency it will also make suggestions about how to stimulate the economy and grow our population to help to achieve that sustainable growth. Taxation will be a key part of this as early discussion round the commission acknowledged the complexities of the existing UK system and expressed a preference for a simpler system similar to other European and Scandinavian countries.

Announcing the Commission’s membership Nicola Sturgeon last year said: “Scotland is a wealthy country with resources and talents that many other countries can only dream about:

“The challenge, however, lies in closing the gap between our potential and the reality. We want to strengthen our foundations and seek to identify the very best opportunities for Scotland’s economy to flourish.”

It would seem that the people behind the commission would do well to look at Geddes’s work in ‘people and place’ and see the possibilities of making Scotland a new constellation of prosperous city regions.Linking economic thinking with planning of places to work and live would seem to be Geddes’s legacy to Scotland.

Scotland has already come a long way in terms of land ownership issues and community empowerment, maybe now is the time to think mega! G.

In Memoriam : As this article was published we heard of the death of Scottish comic artist Jim Baikie from Orkney. He was associated with many of the 2000 AD comic strips mentioned in this article. “We have lost not only a great artist but a good and gentle man,” commented artist Rob Moran.

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