Thursday, 5 May 2016

‘The Lane of Shame’: Stigmatization and Revanchism in Glasgow

John Crossan - University of Glasgow

A few weeks ago I was in conversation with two friends about a new restaurant that will soon be opening in Glasgow City centre. One friend, who is often the ‘word on the street’ when it comes to new bars, clubs and eateries was excited about the novelty of this new establishment, which will be situated outdoors in an alleyway named Gordon Lane. A significant part of the lane is covered and with outdoor heating and contemporary lighting “by all accounts it's going to be a top spot for food and drink in the city” (friend). Whilst this is a privately owned lane it was, until 2013, open to the public and used, amongst other things, as a link between the busy Gordon Street and ‘hipster’ Mitchell Lane. Both entrances to Gordon Lane are now closed off with large metal fences ensuring only those ‘with their names of the list’ get access. I expressed my concerns about the gated lane by reminding my friends that it was used by people for all sorts of reasons, to which one friend immediately replied “aye junkies shoot’n up and homeless people piss’n and shit’n everywhere” (same friend).

This shocking reply holds an element of truth. Non-functioning drug users probably used the lane and homeless people certainly used it for the partial cover it provided – although its unlikely they defecated in the place they slept. Taking such a position when considering issues around city centre planning is not uncommon in Glasgow. An article in a local newspaper, with the headline “Closing time for Glasgow’s lane of shame” reads “the lane is increasingly being used by drug dealers, drunks and criminals” and “just yards from Glasgow’s top shopping streets, it is also used by people sleeping rough” (Evening Times, Dec 2012). The article goes on to inform us that a number of organisations have expressed concerns about the problem lane and its occasional inhabitants, "including the police, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, businesses and the Style Mile steering group"[1] (ibid).

Gordon Lane fenced off

In neoliberal Glasgow the stigmatization of drug users, homeless people, the poor more generally and the places they inhabit is economically strategic and culturally habitual. Gordon MacLeod (2002) draws our attention to the perfunctory ‘cleaning out’ of poor people from the George Hotel on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street in 2000. This hostel, offering cheap and sub-standard accommodation, was situated directly across from the Buchanan Galleries (a city centre shopping mall opened in 1999). On a related issue George Sneddon, the then director of the Glasgow City Centre Partnership (GCCP)[1], advocated “swift action” on the matter of “beggars scaring away city centre shoppers” (ibid). More recently Gordon Matheson (ex Glasgow City Council leader) contributed to the closure of Paddy’s Market – a city centre flea market that was, up until its closure, popular with some of the city’s poorest residents – by referring to it as a “crime-ridden midden[2]” that “used to be a respectable working-class market” (Matheson G 2009).

Like Gordon Lane, Shipbank Lane where the market was located has been fenced off and earmarked for regeneration. The imposing presence of fencing, which denies ‘certain’ people access to these lanes, is an example of revanchist urban planning. Revanchism originated in the right-wing populist movement active in France in the mid decades of the 19th Century (see Gandy 1999). In its modern usage it refers to a raft of architectural features, planning strategies and attendant government policies that reconfigure public space as exclusionary and overregulated or depending on one’s viewpoint, safe and controlled.

Paddy's Market 2007 before its closure by the Glasgow City Council in 2009

Shipbank Lane today, the site that was once Paddy's Market

By employing the dual strategies of stigmatization and revanchism city council officials and other powerful urban stakeholders are attempting to inscribe upon our urban lives their vision of the city. In doing so they are imposing their particular understanding of what is wrong with the city; what is a crime; what we should fear; and what the right trajectory for the city is. The ‘right’ trajectory here favours a particular type of urbanite – those that can afford to participate in public space designed to extract profit from its users. In doing so it excludes those who cannot participate or do not wish to participate in this urban vision.

This strategy attempts to regulate the urban poor and sanitize public space. But it is not only the urban poor who are being regulated. Consider John Allen’s (2006) theory of Ambient Power, which suggests certain consumer spaces transmit authoritative directives by offering a series of “choices around movement and patterns of interaction yet at the same time limiting those movements and interactions in broadly skirted ways” (Allen 2006: 445). Such tight choreographies are celebrated in Glasgow, which is promoted as one of the best retail centres in the UK. Glasgow’s main shopping district has been named ‘The Golden Z’ (referring to the plan of three main streets – Argyle, Buchanan and Sauchiehall Street). This name conjures up images of religious reverence. It serves to mystify the power of a particular urban policy programme that now dominates the city centre.

The St Enoch Centre stands in the heart of the city like a sacred building

The Golden Z is a façade that obscures the harsh realities of Glasgow’s urban neoliberalization programme. We can add to the ‘class cleansing’ initiatives discussed above a raft of other policy outcomes that too often go unnoticed by the citizen-consumer, such as rent-racking, further increases in the precarious labour market, land grabs and public asset stripping (Anderson et al 2013). I want to make it clear that in acknowledging the seductive qualities of these spaces I am not suggesting people are without agency. I am arguing that interaction with these highly regulated consumer spaces undermines non-consumer subjectivities by disciplining the expression of those subjectivities. This has political and moral implications. Public space is reconstructed as apolitical and citizens, like my ‘word on the street’ friend, become desensitised to the plight of others.


Allen J (2006) Ambient Power: Berlin's Potadamer Platz and the Seductive Logic of Public Space. Urban Studies 43(2): 441-455.

Anderson E, Gray N and Roff E (2013) Stripped for Business. Scottish Left Review 74: 6-8.

Gandy M (1999) The Paris sewers and the rationalization of urban space. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24(1): 23-44

MacLeod G (2002) From Urban Entrepreneurialism to a "Revanchist City"? On the Spatial Injustices of Glasgow's Rennaissance. Antipode 34(3): 602-624.

Matheson G (2009) in Paddy’s Market Bags Last Bargains, BBC News, Available from

[1] A Public/private partnership, whose aim is to promote Buchanan Street as world-class shopping experience. 
[2] A private sector led public/private regeneration partnership set up in 1999 to promote central Glasgow as a shopping attraction. Disbanded after three years for failing to deliver on its overall vision, it was replaced with a council-led public/private partnership City Centre Action Plan.
[3] Midden is a Scots word meaning Refuge Dump.

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