Every well known neighbourhood in every city has had its halcyon days. A period of time when it was cool, creative, and affordable. When its businesses were independently owned. When it was home to artists, musicians and those starting out in creative industries. Examples are Paris’s Montmartre in the 1900s, New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s and London’s Shoreditch in the 1990s. “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them,” says a character in The US Office. I believe I am in a unique position as I recognise I am in the good old days right now. I believe now is the best time to be living my neighbourhood, Glasgow’s South Side.
Gentrification is like an avalanche; once it picks up pace it’s impossible to stop it from smothering your streets. The tricky bit is finding that perfect point as an area travels through the process, when it is still affordable with a thriving hub of independently owned businesses but before those businesses turn into Starbucks and Pizza Express with the rents to match. That point is exactly where the South Side is now.
New cafes, bars, shops and restaurants are constantly arriving in the South Side and each one of them is interesting and independently owned. Recently arriving in Shawlands is Julie’s Kopitam, a teeny Malaysian restaurant developed from a pop up, and Phillies, a stylish bar and wine shop. Pollokshaws Road at Strathbungo, which arguably is the best stretch of road in Glasgow for pubs, is soon to welcome Gnom, another restaurant which originated as highly regarded pop up (Chompsky). Victoria Road in Govanhill is getting a record shop cafe called Some Great Reward and an organic supermarket, Locavore (a bigger version of the highly popular shop already in Strathbungo). These small business owners are attracted to the South Side by the reasonable rents and appetite in the area for original places to eat, drink and shop. As all of these businesses are independently owned they have been created with passion by owners who are strongly invested in them.
Contrast this with most recent restaurant announcement in the West End which has always been the bohemian and creative hub of Glasgow. In an A listed building just off Byres Road, there is soon to open a…. Nandos. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with Nandos. But I find it interesting that multinational chains are now the types of businesses opening in prime West End spots. The West End, once the home of Glasgow artists and students, has crossed through the gentrification process to the next stage. The artists can no longer afford to live there and are now living in the South Side.
Paul and I discovered this ourselves a few years ago when we looked into buying a flat in the West End and realised we couldn’t afford it. But our budget was enough for a beautiful two bedroom tenement in Pollokshields. What sets the South Side apart from other thriving areas with bars, cafes and culture is it actually affordable for the average working person to live in. Friends from other cities in the UK who have visited our spacious flat were astonished when we told them how much we paid for it. Pollokshields, Shawlands and Langside are a lot cheaper than the West End, and Govanhill is particularly cheap (although Govanhill does have a lot of social problems). Paul’s parents bought their property in the West End in the early eighties when it was affordable to live there (of course, that was back in a time when properties where a fraction of what they are now and we all know how much they’ve has snowballed since then). They had studied at Glasgow University, loved the bohemian character of the area, the second hand shops, quirky cafes. What they and their generation experienced then is what our generation are experiencing with the South Side now.
I need to make this clear, however – I am not bashing the West End. I believe it is the most beautiful area of Glasgow, with its gorgeous Kelvingrove Park, gothic university tower and smart tenement streets (which are a lot cleaner than the South Side’s tenement streets it has to be said). I still spend a lot of time there (the benefits of living in a small city like Glasgow is that it doesn’t take too long to get around). But the South Side is beautiful too, with its rows of handsome tenements, Alexander Greek Thomson architecture, and Queens Park, which has a great panoramic view of Glasgow from the top.
Also, the South Side isn’t just trendy brunch spots and vinyl stores. What makes it different from other areas is the concerted effort from many of its residents to create a strong sense of community. Several weekends ago the hugely popular Strathbungo Winter Wonderland was held, a recurring event organised by a group of neighbours who put up fabulous artistic displays in their windows, working together for the sole purpose of creating a fun experience for residents of the area to enjoy. A community led trust has just taken over the abandoned bowling green near my flat in Pollokshields and have appealed for suggestions on hosting community based events. East Pollokshields Quad is a group which uses the communal garden behind their tenements to host events like live music, film screenings and parties for kids. The fantastic Glad Cafe, a social enterprise cafe, bar and venue, is the venue of many community groups like choirs, book groups and knitting clubs. Milk Cafe, a lovely little cafe on Victoria Road, supports refugee and migrant women by offering free classes and workshops.
It feels like now are the days in Glasgow’s South Side we will look back on and reminisce. When the locals shops and cafes were small and independently owned, when there was a strong sense of community, and living there was actually affordable. When the South Side does move on to the next stage of gentrification, as it inevitably will, I believe the spirit and sense of the community from the people in the area will prompt a “Keep Southside Weird” movement. But before Starbucks arrives and we need to think about that, let’s savour this moment. We are lucky because we are experiencing what there’s a good chance future generations won’t. We are here now.