Invisible Cities

For the past two Saturdays, I have found myself wandering the city centre streets at 9am. Last week was the first time I had ventured into the city since lockdown. I found a different city from the one I had left in early-March.

Normally, cities are vibrant places at 9am on a Saturday morning. Especially in the lighter, brighter summer months. Shops are already open, ready for their biggest day of the week. Coffee shops are busy as people refresh themselves before starting work or embarking upon their weekly fix of consumerism.

But not this city – and I imagine that Glasgow is not unique. I guess it’s the same scenario in most cities up and down the country. In York and Derby. In Cardiff and Norwich.

People keep saying that we are getting back to normal, but it doesn’t seem that way. The streets are ghostly quiet. Many shops are still closed. Some of Glasgow’s old landmark pubs, places that have been around forever, like the Iron Horse in West Nile Street, are boarded up. I wonder if that is permanent and they will never open their doors again.

As I wander about, I realise that someone stopped the clock in March. Outside the Theatre Royal, the billboards advertising the opera, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are still adorning the facade. I’m reminded that I still have tickets for that. It was scheduled for April. Indeed, I notice that all of the streets’ posters and billboards are advertising events and gigs for dates long gone. Time has stood still.

And there are evident signs of decay. Graffiti is everywhere, although, as shown in the image above, some of it is art. I will let you decide on whether the images below are art or wanton vandalism. But I wonder, has it always been there and we simply haven’t noticed it because of the pace at which the city moves? Or has it emerged in lockdown.

Driving home, I contemplate where we go from here. I wonder about the future of city centres. Once they were home to wealthy merchants, fringed by slums and tenements. But largely residential in purpose. Then the retail revolution emerged. What next? What is the future of our cities? Do we deconstruct and reconstruct them in a shape that suits the new world? Or do we leave them to continue their decay, like some dystopian nightmare?

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