Friday, 30 July 2010
We had heard that taxi-drivers in the city have taken to referring to the new Kepplestone as 'the west-end Tillydrone', so we thought we'd better take a closer look. (We can, of course, read well the implication in that loaded phrase, and we don't like it. Tilly is much done-down; residents of other areas self-importantly assuming their own neighborhood to be "better", and populated by a "better kind of folk". It is not, and they are not.)
So, ready for anything, we approached via Viewfield Road. The developer has laid some engraved (if a bit breathless and ungrammatical) granite plaques giving an interpretation of the histobunk of the site.
And so to the tower-blocks. Note the astroturf on the un-balcony. Honestly. Why?
They rejected plans to build a supermarket into the profile of the slope, so they got this residential development instead. We'll wager that the longer-established residents of Queen's Road, Royfold Crescent and Anderson Drive would much sooner have the Dough School back.
From John Milne, M.A., LL.D.
Celtic Place-names in Aberdeenshire
Monthooly, Mounthooly, Monthillie. Both parts of these names mean hill.
choille, coille asp., hill.
Several places in the county of Aberdeen have this name. In the city it is given to the part of the road to Old Aberdeen between Gallowgate and Canal Street
So, there you go; it's just a bit of tautology. Like the modern "daily journal", "new innovation" or "business entrepreneur" - "Mounthooly" says the same thing twice - "Hilly hill".
Right, having dealt with that, we can move onto the subtance...
Mounthooly was, within living memory, a road through a community of mixed use buildings. Shops and houses and factories and schools and churches and civic stuff and industry all bustled along together. We can probably correctly assume (as this is how human beings live when left to their own devices) that daily life proceeded against the background of this normal and usual built environment since the days of antiquity.
So, what have we got now at Mounthooly? Well, it's quite a large bit of greenery, right in the centre of our city. Indeed, and surely with a hint of irony, Aberdeen City Council have designated it as sacrosanct "Urban Green Space". There's not much of that in the city centre, Union Terrace Gardens is threatened with comprehensive redevelopment, and St Nicholas churchyard is subject to arbitrary access restrictions and is not public land. Mounthooly suffers no such strictures - it's ours, all ours to enjoy whenever we want to.
Secondly, if we actually take the time to physically use the space which was created at Mounthooly (we don't mean by driving round it!), we can catch a glimpse of that modern vision out of the corners of our eyes.
Oddly, the only people who we hear complaining about Mounthooly do so from the narrow viewpoint allowed from behind the wheel of their cars. Tied to a chair in a hot locked iron box, they see Mounthooly only as a barrier to their importantly swift trans-urban progress. We always suggest that they should slow down a bit, get out of their metal box and actually start taking part in the life of the city. Will they? Or will they continue to see the city only as its roads, its shopping destinations and their workplaces? At Other Aberdeen we know the city to be much, much more than that.
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
These are Aberdeen's quiescent lions. They will sleep eternally within the rocks - existing only ever as potential lions.
Originally intended as heraldic gatekeepers to the George VI bridge linking Ferryhill and Kincorth, their birth from the rock was still, interrupted by the Second World War. After the war, the will and means was never mustered to complete their sculpting.
The fourth dormant lion now roars silently as the Ertchie 'Petch' Simpson memorial in Bon Accord Square. The three seen above are in Hazlehead Park's Sculpture Garden. Along with this orphaned plinth which has never seen the statue which it was to host:
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
(Hmmm, we've got a bit of a Netherlandish theme going here - it's just a co-incidence.)
Anyway, here's the meat... it's all a bit pencilneckish, but stay with it, it is worth it, honest.
The Dutch Disease is a concept in economics which explains how the development of a natural resource extraction business sector (like oil and gas) and its associated economic boom can over-balance an economy, causing decline in non-extractive value-adding sectors - particularly the manufacturing sector, but also in agriculture. The pathology of the Dutch Disease is accompanied by moral decline in the personal sphere (affluenza) and turpitude in the public sector (government) as it becomes entangled with big-money business interests. Hmm... sounds familiar?
The term was coined to describe the decline of the manufacturing sector and moral fall-out in the Netherlands in the 1970's following the discovery and exploitation of the gigantic Groningen gas field. The worlds largest ever public-private-partnership (Gasunie) was formed by Shell, Esso and the Dutch State to exploit this resource. At its height, it was not possible to say where the state ended and Gasunie began. Or vice versa. The question was meaningless.
The mechanism goes something like this...
The booming sector (resource extraction) increases the demand for labour and capital which in turn causes the movement of production away from other sectors (in particular, away from value-creating manufacturing and agriculture).
This is compounded by what some economists call the 'spending effect': As personal wealth (for some) increases, it causes an increase in demand for capital and labour to be directed towards the service sectors (including business and personal services, catering, retail and real estate). This, of course, further draws production away from the manufacturing sector and agriculture.
Moreover, this increased demand for service sector goods leads to an increase in prices for these goods and services. The price for the primary resource in the booming resource sector (in our case oil and gas) is set internationally, and so cannot be affected by local economic factors. As price levels for service sector goods and real estate in the local economy boom, this in effect increases the effective exchange rate for individuals and enterprises looking to move into or out of the area. Of course, we are part of the UK and use GB Pounds Sterling as our medium of exchange, it's just that, in this town your GB Pounds exchange for fewer service-sector goods (from haircuts to real estate) than they do in most of the rest of Scotland.
The Oil and Gas industry makes up almost a quarter of the value of our economy in the North East of Scotland. It employs around a fifth of our workers. According to Aberdeen City Council, at current rates of extraction, the currently proven reserves will be effectively depleted by 2016.
From ACC's City Centre Development Report (big PDF).
...peak oil production is now in the distant past and current predictions suggest that as much as 25 billion barrels of oil might still be able to be produced with most of that being in the next 10 years. The current position is that there are 6 years of proven reserves.
It is not our intention to hold forth on Peak Oil, or start a debate about enhanced oil recovery techniques, which will surely improve upon the council's bleak forecast. However, the question must be asked - where is the world-beating marine renewables industry which we were promised would form a centre-of-excellence energy-hub? That was supposed to be in Aberdeen, ready to step in and take up the slack as oil and gas ran down, wasn't it?
When I talk to oil industry people about their intentions, they don't discuss cross-sector transferrable subsea technology. They don't speak of marine skills transfer towards renewables. They don't talk of renewables at all.
Rather, they talk of High Arctic Russia and of Azerbaijan. They hold forth about the Falklands and deepwater Angola. They dream of Sakhalin Island and Equatorial Guinea.
D is also for Denial.
Monday, 26 July 2010
It's clear to us that a lot of the decline we see around Aberdeen is part of the private-sector bust, not just council bankruptcy or intransigence. We're equivocal about what we feel about this...
Being aware that possibilities are generated on the edge of things, at the border between something and nothing, in the interface of new and old and in the no-man's land between the past and the future, we are thrilled by this dynamic tension and its potential. A creative current flows between these areas and in the metaphorical conversation between them; if only we can calibrate our eyes to see the current's arcing like lightning discharges - if only we can tune our ears to the murmuringly quiet whispers - then we can feel the city shifting beneath our feet as it finds its new 21st century identity. Opposing forces out of balance produce motion.
A lot of the recent developments in Aberdeen seem over-confidently out of scale in the current business environment. Developments for which, of course, the funding was in place and business plans written before the onset of market crunch and public austerity.
Public austerity is something which we can expect to see more and more of in Aberdeen. Our council's funding difficulties are structural and a legacy of the imposition of unitary authorities by central government. We understand that Aberdeenshire Council's legacy from Grampian Regional Council was a funding surplus, whereas Aberdeen City Council's inheritance was a budget in permanent deficit - a deficit now compounded and exacerbated by the banking-sector provoked recession and public sector tightening which is its outcome.
Sometimes, like the city-wilderness verge in the photo below, this neglect can turn out to be benign and beneficial. The topsoil benefits from the absence of herbicides and increased biomass mulching, watercourses and drainage channels benefit from improved water retention in-situ and biodiversity obviously benefits. C'mon the bees! And it looks really good. Other folk see nothing but 'weeds' and are outraged.
Vacancy is the greatest risk to the structural integrity of buildings, as no occupant is present to have an interest in keeping the building weatherproof. In time, and nature's changing course untrimmed, the fabric of the building is breached and the structure is compromised. Demolition and comprehensive redevelopment are the inevitable consequence.
We'd never ever ever suggest that property developers would ever find it in their interest to allow decline of a building to progress to such an extent that comprehensive redevelopment were necessary. That could never happen. Particularly not in a conservation area.