Posted tagged ‘Aberdeen’

City sights

February 28, 2014

This is really a photograph of the back of an Aberdeen street. It was taken earlier this week from Union Terrace. The trees in the foreground are in Union Terrace Gardens (the subject of much dispute and debate in Aberdeen), and beyond them you see the backs of various buildings located in the pedestrianised Belmont Street. This street was in fact a later addition to the original city, and contains a number of impressive historic buildings and churches. On the left of this photo is the back of the original Trades Hall, now an arts cinema. The church to the right is now (as are many former churches in Aberdeen) a nightclub.

Aberdeen: the view from Union Terrace

Aberdeen: the view from Union Terrace


The hotel

June 16, 2013

A well known place in the centre of Aberdeen’s old Merchant Quarter is the Carmelite Hotel, a popular meeting place. It also has an unusual architectural shape, which you can see in the photograph below.

Carmelite Hotel

Carmelite Hotel

For readers who have never been here, Aberdeen is well worth a visit.

Flowing into the city

March 6, 2013

The heart of the city of Aberdeen rests between two rivers, the Dee and the Don. What you see on this photo is the Bridge of Dee, which for a ling time provided main access route into the city from the south. There are now three additional bridges, but a good deal of traffic traffic is still taken across this rather narrow but attractive bridge.

Bridge of Dee, Aberdeen

Bridge of Dee, Aberdeen

In the background you can see parts of Aberdeen city, with its many spires, and some less attractive newer high rise buildings.

You may also notice a number of dark specks in the sky. This is not dust on the camera lens, but rather what you see are some of the thousands of birds that are a constant feature of this coastal city.

Garden city blues

August 23, 2012

This post comes to you from Ireland, but over the past 24 hours I have been rather focusing on the news from Aberdeen, where I now live and work. For those not familiar with current issues in the Granite City, a major controversy has been raging there over the future of the city centre’s Union Terrace Gardens. This is actually a small sunken park, just off the main thoroughfare, Union Street. For the past while proposals have been debated for a major regeneration plan for the park and its surrounding area, known as the City Garden Project. The intention has been to create a new urban park with leisure and performing arts elements. Major local businessman Sir Ian Wood pledged a substantial sum of money that would cover a significant proportion of the costs. A public process selected a particular design, and this was then put to the citizens of Aberdeen in a referendum earlier this year; the proposal was adopted.

However, all of this was also the subject of major battles between various interest groups: between the Scottish National Party (and Conservatives and some Liberal Democrats) on the one hand, who supported the proposal; and Labour (and independents and other Lib Dems), who opposed it. Amongst the wider population there were groups campaigning for the regeneration project, and others strongly opposing it and calling for the present park to be maintained. There were businesspeople supporting the plans, and some community groups opposing it. There were media campaigns, public meetings, arguments, insults. In fact, I have never seen a local initiative that has caused so much (to my mind) needless and silly hostility and aggression.

So, cards on the table. I was and am a strong supporter of the redevelopment plans. They make sense to me, they enjoy funding support, they meet the urgent need for an iconic project that will stop the decay of Aberdeen’s city centre, and they were supported by the people in a referendum. But then, I meet some people who believe this plan will rip out the traditional heart of the city, and create a major financial problem for future generations. And I know that, whatever was to be decided, we would all need to live and work together for the future of Aberdeen.

Well, it has now been decided, in the sense that Aberdeen City Council – having previously adopted the proposals under an SNP-led administration before the local elections – has now under a Labour-led administration abandoned the plan by a vote of councillors taken yesterday. So, it seems the project is now dead. I genuinely regret that, but more importantly I fear the decision will be interpreted outside Aberdeen as indicating a lack of local ambition and drive. I accept that we must all now work together to make the best of this situation, and I would hope that the more aggressive or hostile statements (on whatever side) will stop. And I strongly hope that the Council, having taken its decision, will quickly present an ambitious and realistic alternative plan for the large-scale regeneration of Aberdeen city centre. I shall certainly seek to ensure that my university plays an active role in this.

Indeed, RGU will shortly present its own outlook on the future of the city centre. Watch this space.

Overwhelmingly granite

May 6, 2012

As some readers of this blog may know, Aberdeen is known as the Granite City. Most of its buildings are made of granite, and the scale of it can be almost overwhelming at first sight. But the biggest granite building of them all is Marischal College, seen here.

Technically, there are lots of things wrong with this photo: the severe lens distortion, the cars, and so on. But this was the only perspective I could use to show as much of the building as possible. It is in fact the second largest granite building in the world (the biggest is in Spain). It took nearly a hundred years to build, and was completed around the beginning of the 20th century.

Marischal College itself was originally an independent university, but became part of the University of Aberdeen in the mid-19th century. The university has now however largely left the site, and the building itself is now the home of Aberdeen City Council. It is a significant landmark in the city.

Keeping the city alive

March 26, 2012

As most readers of this blog know, I am now a resident of Aberdeen in Scotland. I have been here now for just over a year, and have grown to like the city and the region a lot. Aberdeen is the oil capital of Europe; the oil and gas industry have protected it from the recession, and it is prosperous and thriving. It is also an interesting place, with almost all buildings made of granite, which creates an unusual effect.

At the heart of the city, as I have mentioned previously, is Union Street. This is, as the name suggests, a street, but it is much more than that. First, it is very long, approximately one mile. Secondly, it is really a viaduct, because it runs across hills and is built on granite supports over the valleys – though this is not visible to the casual driver or pedestrian. It was completed early in the 19th century, and named in honour of the Act of Union with Ireland. It became the main shopping thoroughfare, with elegant shops and department stores.

From the later 20th century, however, Union Street was gradually destroyed. The construction of a number of major shopping centres sucked commercial enterprises out of the street, and the buildings they left empty either remained so, or were filled with discount shops or a narrow range of retail outlets, typically mobile phone shops. Here is a view not untypical of the street.

An equally typical view is as below, with closed buildings that look neglected.

If you look closely at the pavement in the photo above, you will also notice the remains of the chewing gum that people spit out – though in fairness, that’s a feature of most cities apart from Singapore.

Even those shops still in business seem to be infected by the general lack of respect for their environment, as seen below.

And even where some grand buildings survive and indeed thrive, as in the case of the Music Hall below, you may find that right next to them is some neglected building or a monstrosity that should never have been built.

So what’s to be done? Is Aberdeen’s Union Street doomed? One can only hope that it is not. It is the heart of the city, and right now it is a disgrace. But steps could be taken that will improve it and secure its future. It needs to be pedestrianised, or at any rate some of the traffic needs to be taken out; it needs plants and trees; it needs more attractive street lighting; and it needs active management of the properties and their use.

Over the next years Aberdeen’s city centre will be the subject of significant attention as the City Garden project gets under way (which, while controversial, was supported by a majority of the city’s residents in a recent referendum; but I won’t get into that here). I can only hope that this will also prompt the city to do something serious about Union Street. The time to do it is now.

Views of Aberdeen

September 7, 2011

In this occasional series of photographs taken in Aberdeen, here is one more of the Merchant Quarter. The exact location is Correction Wynd. The photograph was taken just after sunset.

Correction Wynd, Aberdeen, at dusk

Views of Aberdeen

September 1, 2011

This area is known as the Merchant Quarter of Aberdeen, and it contains a number of restaurants and historic buildings.

Correction Wynd, Merchant Quarter, Aberdeen

Views of Aberdeen

August 18, 2011

This is a slightly different view of Aberdeen. I liked the combination of the early morning light and the rows of cars. The photo was taken at 6 am one morning in July 2011.

the street

Killing the city centre

August 3, 2011

What you see below is a photograph of the street that is the heart of Aberdeen’s City Centre: Union Street. For Irish readers, it is an interesting curiosity that the street was named to mark the Act of Union of 1800 that integrated Ireland into the United Kingdom; and not, as is sometimes assumed locally, the Act of Union 1707 that created the union between Scotland and England. Anyway, back to the photo.

Union Street, Aberdeen, July 2011

Union Street is a fairly wide street with elegant granite buildings on either side. But it looks and feels neglected; indeed, it is neglected. In the recent past the city gave planning permission for a major shopping mall, which is about three minutes’ walk from where this photo was taken. This mall, located by the railway station, contains a number of upmarket shops and a variety of food outlets and restaurants. It has sucked the retail life out of Union Street, where a significant number of buildings now stand empty, or contain downmarket food outlets, or mobile phone shops (of which there appear to be dozens).

In addition, Union Street is (as the photo shows) a main traffic thoroughfare, and at all times of the day it is extremely busy, again affecting the pedestrian experience. At night it is used mainly by young people, often inebriated and excessively noisy, and a major nocturnal feature is the sight of men urinating against shop doorways.

Overall, Aberdeen is an elegant city, which has been spared the worst ravages of the recession. But what should be its heart – Union Street – is a disgrace. It should be pedestrianised, its buildings should be cleaned up, there should be trees and other aesthetic elements. In short, it should acquire some of the features that are now recognised worldwide as being necessary for a healthy city centre.

None of what I am saying here is new or original. It is a matter of consensus in Aberdeen that something must be done. Only, nothing is being done. It is time to act, and in recognition of this I have established an expert group in my university to work on some proposals that we will then put to the city and its stakeholders. Revitalising Aberdeen’s city centre is now urgent.