This blog was first posted in August 2018.
It is 50 years ago since I took up my first post as a professional planner. This anniversary moment provides plenty to reflect on.
In May 1968, while students built barricades on the streets of Paris, I took the train from Manchester to Glasgow for a job intereview. The post I was applying for was a Planning Assistant with Glasgow Corporation. The only thing I can remember about the interview was that I said that as a planner, Glasgow was the kind of big city that I wanted to work in: clear the slums and build better housing and living environments. I was on the cusp of graduating from the 2-year, full-time (and I mean full-time, as in studio-based) post-graduate Diploma iin Town Planning at Manchester University. In those distant days there was no one year route to a Master’s degree while working in a bar, though I did get a bursary and did not have to pay fees, just as my State Scholarship and College scholarship had funded my undergrad’ geography degree. Hugh Martin, similarly poised to graduate from Manchester’s 4-year, equally full-time undergraduate course, was also interviewed that morning. Once the interviews were over we headed off together to see for ourselves the wonders of Cumbernauld New Town, a place that got a lot of “buzz” at the time: as I recall it Hugh and I got a bit confused by the various levels in the town centre mega-structure, and the visit left me skeptical about the hype.
Soon a letter arived offering me a job in Glasgow. Hugh was similarly successful. The salary of around £30 a week was more than the going rate that other councils were offering for entry level posts. Thus a couple of weeks later, my wife and I borrowed my Dad’s car, and drove north to find somewhere to live in what was still the “second city of the (rapidly diminishing) Empire”. The drive north took about 7 hours in all; there was no M6 except for a bit around Preston with the futuristic service station at Forton, and Carlisle was a bottleneck.
Entering Glasgow through the East End made a deep impression on me. I’d been born in the slums of inner Manchester, and the house my wife and I were living in while I was a post-grad’ was itself in line for redevelopment (built 1826, no bathroom, outside toilet, damp from the earth floor of the cellar below), so it was not as though I was a stranger to bad housing and gap sites. For all that the East End looked like it was a black-and-white photo from the 1930s. A major storm had badly damaged Glasgow buildings that January, leaving roofs with temporary coverings and rendering some flats uninhabitable.
By the end of that Saturday afternoon, with time running out on our short visit, I saw a sign pointing to East Kilbride. Knowing it was a New Town acted like a magnet, and we headed there. My wife was a primary school teacher and, after a few months’ wait (spent in a basement in Glasgow), we were able to get a nearly new flat with not just a bathroom / indoor toilet, but also underfloor heating (which soon stopped working) and “piped” TV/radio, the very essence of 1960s modernity.
So it was that I presented myself for work on the 5th floor of 33 Ingram St, in the centre of Glasgow, on a Monday morning 50 years ago. I was assigned to the Area Team for Area 2, the North-West of the city, and given the 1964 Quinquennial Review of the Development Plan to read as my induction. Thus I poured over the 26 Comprehensive Development Areas designated in it, the endless catalogues of land uses and acreages, struggling through the drab, bureaucratic language. You can only read a development plan for so long, and by the middle of the week I was showing signs of distress, so was given my first real assignment.
The Corporation had recently acquired the derelict Queen’s Dock, not far from the city centre: a survey and report was needed. Thus, as the late summer sun shone, and Warsaw Pact tanks began to head towards Prague, map in hand I undertook my first site visit. I returned to the office rather bemused by some of the graffiti I had stumbled across, and naively asked colleagues what was meant by “Remember 1690 – FTP”. A couple of weeks later it would have been less of a mystery, as the march for civil rights in Northern Ireland was halted by police and militant Protestants.
I found the 9 to 5 working day a bit weird. As a student I had never really watched the clock to decide when it was time to go home: that depended on where you were with the work. However, as an employee, if I arrived back from a site visit at 4.45, I had to sit around for 15 minutes before I could sign off. Needless to say, I had no emails waiting for me to answer. Still it was soon Friday, the office began to wind down about lunch time, and I was able to relect on what it was like to be a professional planner. I WAS ACTUALLY GETTING PAID TO DO THIS! What’s more, the job did not involve labouring outside: the site visits were rather enjoyable, and I did not have to clean windows or pack frozen chickens into carboard boxes in a converted mill like my father. I had an indoor job, a Town Hall job even (a thing much prized where I came from, because of the security and pension), and already I was being paid the national average wage.
So certain goals had been achieved quickly. But… but… My report on the Queen’s Dock was not in the mode that Glasgow Corporation Planning Department had previously encountered. I analysed two alternatives for the site, an exhibition centre or using it to build council housing and associated play facilities. They were evaluated using Morris Hill’s Goals Achievement Matrix, based on the paper he had published in the Journal of the American Institute of Planners in January 1968. Unfortunately, the analysis revealed that in terms of a rational planning choice, there was not much to choose between the two alternative futures: much ado about nothing. Perhaps I was more cut out for an academic career.
Check out Andrew Lainton’s eloquent demolition of my naive use of the Goals Achievement Matrix by clicking here.