NORTH GLASGOW WALKING TOUR

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Saturday 23rd April // Reflections by John Hutchinson // Photos by Clem Sandison

I think it’s fair to say that North Glasgow doesn’t figure high on the itinerary of most tourists visiting Glasgow, and for those of us living elsewhere in the city, it perhaps isn’t a regular destination. Despite living in Maryhill when I first moved to Glasgow, and having used the canal as a regular running route for the last 10 years or so, I’d rarely ventured to its northern side – so I was keen to explore. Billed as “a walking tour of hidden spaces in North Glasgow, exploring the city’s history and heritage, questions of dereliction, the benefits of wild spaces, and the potential for community transformation of urban land”, this Soil City walking tour led by Clem Sandison, provided the perfect opportunity to investigate.

A group of twenty or so budding urban explorers gathered at the Whisky Bond for a brief introduction, before the short walk along the canal to our first destination of the Hamiltonhilll Claypits. Shiona MacPhail, of the Friends of Possilpark was our expert guide around this captivating urban wilderness. A former industrial site which was vital to the expansion of the canal system – a history of clay extraction, shale-oil extraction, boat repair and iron making have all left their traces on the site, whether it be in the soil, or surface traces of former infrastructure. Left to nature since the demise of these industries, the claypits are now a bustling greenspace of great biodiversity. It was really enjoyable to have a root around and take in the quiet ambience of the place, with that compelling juxtaposition between natural and human-made things that you find in such places – finds ranged from abandoned cans of Tennent’s Super Lager to the bones of roe deer! The hopes of Shiona and the Friends of Possilpark are for the rich biodiversity and industrial heritage of the claypits to become a real asset to the local community, by raising public awareness and improving access to the site.

Next stop on the tour was up the back of the claypits to the Hamiltonhill Allotments. This involved walking up the shale bing left over from its industrial heyday, which provides a fantastic 180 degree view looking South over the city. I even spotted a couple of roe deer amongst the silver birches below, before they turned their cotton wool tails and fled. For me the hidden gem of the claypits are a proper edgeland, what Farley and Roberts describe as – “a wilderness that is much closer than you think: a debatable zone, neither the city nor the countryside, but a place in-between”.    

At the allotments we were met by one of the Soil City roving research bikes and a couple of pre-dug pits to have a closer look at the soil and some worm identification. We also had a chat with one of the allotment holders who showed us around and talked about her relationship to the allotment and the community that surrounds it. The more orderly and organised layout of the allotments provided an interesting contrast to the wilder nature of the claypits. Continuing the theme of community growing, we took a short walk into Possilpark to have lunch in the lovely space of the Back Garden – a community growing space located on formerly derelict land, which has individual, communal and group plots, as well as drop-in social gardening sessions. A great example of how stalled spaces can be co-opted for the benefit of local communities.

Our final stop on the walking tour was nearby Cowlairs Park, a large area of open parkland (formerly several football pitches) which after being effectively abandoned by the council has become somewhat of a dumping ground, and garnered a reputation as a bit of a ‘no go area’ due to drinking and anti-social behaviour. With the absence of any strict regulation the park has been re-purposed for an altogether different use – its open layout and the differing elevations of its former football pitches now provide the perfect race track for motorbike enthusiasts. This was evidenced on the day, as a large number of quad bikes and dirt bikes tore around the place, zooming by at great speed. Added to the rubbish, random discarded objects lying around and scorched areas of grass, the park had a pretty post-apocalyptic, Mad Max feel to it. Despite this, it was a compelling place to be, with great views towards the north of the city and a weird beauty. Although its far from the manicured care of other city parks such as Kelvingrove or Glasgow Green, perhaps places like this are needed, where people are able to get away from the regulated and monitored spaces of the city to find excitement and release some energy by driving motorbikes at high speed? Better here than on the roads! Clem described Cowlairs Park as a “feral commons”, which I think describes its sense of place perfectly.

The short walk back to the Whisky Bond completed our circuit of some of north Glasgow’s hidden spaces, while we chatted and reflected on the places we’d visited. Although they may lie outside the area covered by most of Glasgow’s tourist maps, the various edgelands of north Glasgow are a captivating place for anyone interested in the rich industrial heritage of the city, as well as the opportunities that derelict spaces present for both wild nature and community action. 

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SOIL AND THE CITY WALK

Wednesday 20th April // Reflections by John Hutchinson

Bob Hamilton of the Common Good Awareness Project led an east end meander to observe and discuss the relationship between the concrete and social constructions of the city and the soil on which it is built. The common good awareness project, initiated by Bob raises awareness of publicly owned assets in the city and engagement in the common good fund which arises from these assets. What if we understood soil as a common good and the assets as the ecological, social and practical services it provides?

Bob proved to be an interesting and informative guide as we took a stroll around the East End. In the spirit of a Parisian flâneur, our route was unplanned and our pace was leisurely as we took time to stop and discuss places and points of interest. Our first stop was at Glasgow Green, where a legalize Cannabis event provided an appropriate backdrop to discussions surrounding the social role of the commons as well as the ecological importance of their soil. Before starting the walk, Bob had compared the city to the structure of a computer circuit board, with their conductive tracks, pads and copper sheets resembling the roads, pavements and buildings of the city – individual components that all serve a vital function within a larger whole.  In providing a breathing space “where people don’t have to do anything, or buy anything” common greenspaces act like the heatsinks and fans of the circuit board, preventing components from overheating and breaking down. As we looked around Glasgow Green and saw the plethora of people who were enjoying it and the diversity of activities going on, this analogy really resonated.

Bob then suggested that we visit Free Wheel North, a cycling development charity based at Glasgow Green as a good example of the ways in which we “can plug-in” to the commons and utilize their benefits for the common good. It was great to see so many people utilizing the vast array of adapted bikes that Free Wheel North offer – a testament to their belief that everyone should have the right to access health, fresh air and exercise.  From then on we meandered to Bridgeton Cross, taking the time to look up and appreciate the wealth of architectural heritage that Glasgow has to offer. We ended up our walk basking in the sun at the Abercromby Street Burial Ground – a compelling site which contains the graves of three weavers killed in the Calton Weaver’s Strike of 1787. Until recently, this graveyard had long been neglected, but thanks to the efforts of local activists it has since seen renewed attention  – not least as the site of a Georgia Hogan exhibition as part of Glasgow International. Visiting this site for the first time, I was unaware of the role of weaving in the industrial history of Calton and the events of the weaver’s strike. While we enjoyed the sun in its peaceful surroundings, I thought of the importance of such places, and of their soil, as points of connection to the past and as incubators of local identity.

 

 

Farm Hack

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Further reflections on the Farm Hack event by Ashley Robinson

Mark it down in the diaries, folks – Scotland’s very first Farm Hack – Oct 1st & 2nd, Tombreck Farm in Perthshire. A gathering of people, ideas and skills – all aiming to make the technology and tools of  agro-ecological farming a bit more accessible, collaborative, and open-source. A description nicked from the Farm Hack website describes Farm Hack as, a  “farmer-driven community to develop, document, and build tools for resilient agriculture – and to build community around that goal.”

When I heard that one of the co-founders of Farm Hack, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, was speaking in Glasgow, I knew I needed to attend. Speaking as part of Open Jar Collective’s “Soil City” events, Severine was discussing her experiences of Farm Hack, and the potential for a Scottish Farm Hack later this year.

What IS Farm Hack? I think of Farm Hack as a Wikipedia of appropriate technology for small-scale farmers. Of course, it’s much more than that. It’s an online platform for ‘hacks’ of the farming variety – which enables the sharing of resources, information, tools, blueprints, and skills. It’s also an offline platform for building community, creating connection, and empowering collaboration.

What started in 2010 in the US as a website and a handful of events, has grown into an inspiring way to organise community-led technological innovation and design in relation to small-scale farming. This technological innovation and design is deliberately human-scale – creating adaptable, affordable, and easy-to-fix farming equipment.

How does it work? This open-source and ever-evolving database of technological resources are achieved through collaborative, and slightly unlikely, partnerships. Techy folk and farmers come together in a mutually beneficial way, to develop and build tools. Market gardeners to mechanics, shepherds to engineers, dairymen to designers – everyone has a role in Farm Hack.

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Severine speaks! Severine seems to be a woman of contrasts, or at least, my short time spent with her gave me this impression. She offered in-depth analysis alongside silly anecdotes, enlightened solutions and harsh realities, here-and-now examples with grand possibilities for a different future.

She spoke of the importance of developing tools and equipment using design principles that mimic those principles of agro-ecological farming, such as simplifying complexity, and being energy and labour-saving.

She spoke of the multitude of benefits of bringing people together towards a common goal. Particularly bringing together people who aren’t usually in the same sphere – technies and farmers. These benefits are  more than just the formation of genuine relationships, the value is where those relationships can lead. Good design? Yes. Better technology for farmers? Of course. More importantly though, those relationships foster mutual understanding of one another and their respective values and paradigms. This understanding, and this collaboration across different spheres in society, can only lead to good things for the small-scale farming movement.

She spoke of different examples of what Farm Hack has developed, giving us a look into what we could be doing here in Scotland. Software, such as a mobile phone app, that alerts the farmer when their greenhouse temperature drops, or if their electric fencing fails. Pedal powered and draft-animal powered farming machines that use muscle, rather than oil, energy. Clever modifications of old tractors, making a more modern utilisation of existing implements. The sharing of untapped resources that were previously part of society’s waste stream.  The only limit seems to be those of the collective human creativity.

Following Severine’s presentation, many of us gathered to discuss and organise a Scottish Farm Hack, with much fruitful insight and exciting plans coming together. We wanted to keep most of the same elements and format of the UK Farm Hack gathering, including a weekend residential format, practical and technological workshops, skill sharing, and of course, the social aspect of connecting with others.

We discussed the potential of the Scottish Farm Hack differentiating slightly, by having a more holistic approach. This could mean not just focusing on innovative tools and associated skills, but supporting and attracting all aspects of agro-ecological farming. Examples of this include showcasing the methods and techniques of resilient agriculture, or bringing in the livestock, woodland, and orchard aspects of farming alongside arable production ‘hacks’.

Many thanks to Severine for her enthusiastic and enlightened contribution to the Scottish Farm Hack imaginings and discussion – and Soil City for hosting! Perhaps we’ll see you, and many other farmers and tinkerers, on the sunny hillside at Tombreck, dreaming and building the tools for the Scottish farming renaissance.

Farm Hack

Some Notes by Kristina Nitsolva from the talk co-founder of Farm Hack, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, shared at the Soil City Lab

Farm Hack is…

….the meshing of cultures – engineers and farmers are different characters, approaching problem-solving in different ways. Collaborating patience and time and listening, and this should be honoured. Farm Hack is like a microcosm of what it takes for the different cultures/fields to collaborate towards common goals.

….meeting through working in service of sustaining (sustainable) farming.

….sharing a problem or a project at gatherings and inviting input, advice, collaboration.

….hacking open accountability (of the unaccountable organisations, mechanisms).

….activists working with scientists.

….hacking open farm equipment so it can be adapted to the needs of small-scale farmers, it can be easily repaired, and so that it can be affordable unlike farm machinery produced by large corporations.

….is organising- you don’t need to be a designer, a farmer or a tech person; communicating, connecting people and their ideas and bringing them together is vital to the movement.

What is the sharing economy?

The opposite of the current economy which tends to put a price on things and activities we could easily do for free.

How do we go about changing this?

One idea is making our economy visible by situating art and activism in places where multiple intersections of our economy meet (rivers/cities).

Inspiring developments in the movement?

Ouishare (http://ouishare.net/en) and their conferences in Paris and beyond

Our connection to land

Monday 11th April, Land Rights Night, reflections by Kristina Nitsolova

Carving out spaces for collective learning and getting to grips with new to us ideas is a challenge in a culture of hectic urban living. Yet, in the midst of a very busy arts festival, quite a few of us chose to come along and hear the perspectives of the speakers contributing to this discussion on Land Rights.

Each speaker contributed a response to how our relationship to land is changing and has been changing as economic considerations seem to increasingly take priority over the social, cultural and environmental in a local and global scale. Having those different voices, spanning two continents, different generations and fields of interest, asking critical questions allowed us to learn not from facts but from the experiences of the speakers, and begin to look at our own connection to (our) land and response (or lack of) to how it is used and who makes the decisions.

Land as commons, a resources owned by no one and shared by everyone, was a key point of discussion and an ethical point from which issues of land use and land right were perceived by some of the speakers. Elinor Ostrom’s 8 principles for managing a commons were highlighted as guidance and inspiration-giving document. Looking back in history at how commons and land rights issues had been approached in different cultures was highlighted as another source of wisdom for the current movement (for example, the Highland Land League); other movements are also a source of knowledge (for example, the Food sovereignty movement). The feral commons of the Govan graving docks, now cleared and the the site of a new housing development, illustrates how land use issues are very much relevant to those of us living in cities, as well well as those living in rural areas, the possibilities of public use begin to diminish through the commercialisation of urban land.

 

Severine  von Tscharner Fleming (Greenhorns; Farm Hack) focussed on agency, that of young farmers in the US working to build ‘infrastructure for holding land in common’ in spite of the barriers created by large scale agricultural models which make it very difficult for young people to re-enter agriculture as a way of (making a) living. She spoke of their ambition to open up access to land for local economies for young farmers and people without enough, or any, capital in an increasingly speculative system. She said to look up Terre de Liens, a group from France, who are forging the way and inspiring the global movement!

Artist Alec Finlay, guided us through a journey of Scottish landscapes and their Gaelic names demonstrating how landscape and culture, nature and people are interconnected but how we may be witnessing the weakening or disappearance of these connections. Here are some notes from his contribution to the evening excluding the beautiful-sounding names and the stunning landscapes projected on the wall: First there was the place, then the name. The name of what a place once was…Place names are social signs…A field of biotic relations, necessary relations. A name could aid habitat restoration as it is all that remain from a past habitat…a sound designating reality. A name is a place and it’s absence

REFLECTIONS ON LAND RIGHTS

IMG_7892Alec Finlay reflects on his involvement in the Land Rights Night which took place at South Block on Monday 11th April

I valued how the conversation revealed the unresolved tensions – unresolved in my own mind – between the healing effects of feral-play and the task of community growing-producing. I don’t know about the other speakers, but I felt the different examples opened that up as a discussion to move towards, without seeing it as an opposition. (Maybe at first I introduced it in that way, but I thought the examples of wild huts, shelters, and the creative potential of ruins made it clear that isn’t the case, and the conversations I had afterwards suggested that).

There is a lot to think about in terms of the alternatives of preserving feral places as ‘refugia’, where wild things grow and people heal their pasts, in a locality, and, on the other hand, taking over sites, to grow things, make innovative parks, or harvest (e.g. biomass). I was left reflecting on that tension between conserving industrial ruins, and translating them into productive green sites (ideally with the addition of renewable energy).

Part of that is an artist feeing a need to analyse and criticise my own tendency to be involved in a ‘play’ activity; part of it is the duty climate change brings; and part of it is about strategies of how you preserve spaces from unnecessary development. Without becoming “something”, whether a landscaped ruin, park, garden, etc, feral places are always vulnerable. My point about the teenage den was that it tends to be vulnerable to developers, unless, perhaps, we define that evolution towards “something”. (The something can be landscaping the ruin as a ruin, productive of a feral space and healing activities, or it can be the productivity of crofts or gardens. What we need are innovative solutions to what that “something” is?

I liked how the conversation introduced these issues, and possible solutions, without finding one answer. Translating crofting into the city, and composing a “ruin” – they kind of meet in Kevin Langan’s wild shelters, or bothies, or huts – where the den becomes a dwelling, and that makes a ‘steward’ to protect a place from development. So I valued the way the other speakers opened up that discussion, and possibly hinted at a menu of solutions? For me, I think dwelling became more important than commons – though its a useful word. Access is always an issue, but what seems to protect spaces is lived presence, and maybe not even a word like commons is powerful enough, at this time, to resist development?

One thing we didn’t touch on, but which the soil project will, is the toxic soil in Glasgow, and what can be done with it. Some of it is ‘ruined’, some of it can be redeemed.

Thanks to everyone.