Monday, 29 December 2014

Help for one of Scotland's Nothing-Towns

Before and after - Fresco of Jesus in Borja
Before and after - Fresco of Jesus in Borja
by Cecilia Giménez

You know, one of my greatest and longest serving fans sent me a wonderful story last week about a wee town in Spain. Entitled 'Struggling town gets tourism boost from art restoration cock-up', the article describes how Borja, a nothing-town near Zaragoza, became a magnet for thousands of curious tourists eager to see the handiwork of the restoration artist Cecilia Giménez in resurrecting the local economy by 'vandalising' a Fresco of Jesus. Incidentally, Borja is just down the road from Pamplona, the town which gave its name to the famous holidaymakers song Una Pamplona Blanca.

Anyway I digress. Her well intentioned work, which you can see above, is to my eye quite stunning. It seems to literally blur the boundaries between figurative and abstract painting! It has brought about a quiet revolution in the town's visitor numbers - and fortunes. So what has worked for the nothing-town of Borja could perhaps work in our lovely wee Scotland too.
the centre of Irvine
the centre of Irvine

When I read about Borja I immediately thought of one of Scotland's nothing-towns - Irvine. I've never been there but a colleague lived there for a few years as she clambered up the greasy pole to planning respectability here at Auchterness. She often talked about the town, likening it to a merger of Motherwell and Cumbernauld - but by the sea. Three bad things wrapped into one. In other words it is what we expert planners would call a dump.

Now I gather from recent canteen chat that the good burgers of North Ayrshire Council have been trying to turn around the fortunes of the town. To quote, they intend to, "collectively identify and build on Irvine’s economic strengths and build a 'whole town' appeal that promotes Irvine’s Clyde coast location, its connections to Glasgow and its quality of life attributes, to offer a successful, vibrant town offer". This is laughable cliché planning - a vacuous and cynical exercise! I had a quick look at the Draft Strategy which has been out for consultation - a big mistake in my view and not even a properly accessible document - and it is full of ideas like an 'Urban Dressing Programme', 'Quality Plaice Building', 'Promoting an Aspirational Plaice' and 'Linking-up Town Centre to Secure Added Value'.

I'm guessing that whoever produced this document was doubled up laughing as they wrote it. It's like the result of one of these games where you have columns of random words and you join them together blindfold. We have done this at Auchterness in the past so I hesitate to dismiss it as a way of filling up a report - it's a useful and valuable exercise in the right circumstances. Of course it has been issued to consultation which must mean that the Council like it! Well as an expert planner I can tell them right away that it won't work - it won't make any difference at all.

Here's my idea! Why doesn't the Council simply admit that the town is a dump and market it on that basis? Some of the components could include:
  • not picking up litter or emptying litter bins - ok little change here but...
  • an advertising campaign which says that the Scottish Maritime Museum is the most boring museum in Scotland - it's like going to a zoo only to find that all the animals are dead!
  • demolishing the Magnum Centre - oh wait...
  • publishing an inaccurate train timetable to frustrate visitors
  • even more nasty and unpleasant public art
  • a town of empty shops - folk will be surprised when they find occupied shops
  • completely random clamping of cars in public car parks
  • announcing that the Big Idea has reopened and getting some good publicity over the outcry
  • introducing an entry fee at all entrance points to the town

That's just a start but you can see how this could mirror the success of Borja in moving from nothing-town to regional success story. I'm happy to advise North Ayrshire Council as a paid consultant in this matter.

Anyway, sorry I haven't been able to write more lately. Hope you all had a great Christmas and all the best for Hogmanay. Cheeriebye for now from Auchterness – have a good one!

1 comment:

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