The Selfish Giant’s Square

7 Feb

I have taken to avoiding Blythswood Square as I make my way around Glasgow. I used to deliberately travel through the Square if I was in that part of town, because I liked the walk through the tiny park / garden that lies in the middle of it. That was before they locked it up. Now it just depresses me to have to walk around it and see the padlocks and notices.

The official reason given by the notices is the Occupy protestors who set up a measly camp of three tents in one part of the park in November. It was a pretty uninspiring protest, and they must have been freezing. I thought in the end they’d been blown away by the storms (literally or metaphorically) but it turns out that they were actually blown away by a court injunction. To prevent anything like that happening again, the notice said, it has been necessary to close the park. Thus, the actions of a “selfish few” have spoiled it for everyone.

That doesn’t wash. Leaving aside the motives of the campers (a “selfish” anti-greed campaign? Hmm), the situation now is that there is a five foot (or so) fence on a small wall, finished with four padlocked gates. That would hardly keep out determined protestors for two minutes – I could scale it myself if I was so inclined – but it will keep out office workers and passers-by, who were the people who used the square.

The main reason I find their notice disingenuous, though, is that the fence started going up long before the protestors arrived. As soon as they rebuilt the fence it was obvious where things were headed, and the big gates confirmed it. When the protestors moved in it gave them an excuse, but it does appear that they were planning to close the park anyway.

I keep saying “they” and “them”. The park is owned by the surrounding businesses, as I understand it, so it is private property and the owners are within their legal rights to close it. However it is also the only patch of green in the surrounding area, and is enormously popular with office workers who walk through or around it in winter, and lie on it having picnic lunches in summer. (“Summer” here meaning the few sunny days that we get in Glasgow.) For years and years it has been a much-loved local amenity and has had its litter collected and flower beds planted by the council. Now, probably at the behest of the Bythswood Hotel (because that is the big new business in the Square), it’s just another small pleasure that’s being denied to ordinary people, possibly because we make it look messy.

I have fond memories of sunny times spent in the park Blythswood Square garden, eating ice cream, sunbathing and chatting. The notice on the locked gates says that the garden will still be opened on sunny days in summer. I hope that’s true, but it’s not much of a consolation. It’s not just me who liked the place, either; according to the survey of Living, Working and Spirituality in Glasgow, 24% of people gave an outdoor space as their favourite place in Glasgow City Centre, and many of them specifically mentioned Blythswood Square.

Blythswood Square park used to be a little bit of green pleasure in the middle of a working day. Now it’s just the Selfish Giant‘s garden.


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