Glasgow Will Demolish Its Tallest Buildings Live On International TV

When the Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow this July, the city wants to put its best foot forward. The city thus has plans to blow up the Red Road flats, an infamous and now largely abandoned housing project, as part of its opening ceremony. A growing backlash, however, asks whether dynamiting the Red Road flats should really be turned into a celebration.

On the face of it, demotion is a spectacle. "We are going to wow the world, with the demolition of the Red Road flats set to play a starring role," Gordon Matheson, leader of the Glasgow city council, told The Guardian when the plan was announced last week. Two of the original eight Red Road buildings have already been torn down, and you can watch one of the demolitions below. It gives you a taste of the awesome spectacle that is destruction.

But the legacy of the Red Road flats is a complicated one, and some are not so eager to celebrate their demolition for a sporting event. Built in the 1960s, the thirty-story buildings were the tallest housing in all of Europe at the time, their height symbolizing the optimism invested in them. The modern towers were supposed to elevate the poor out of the crumbling slums, giving them central heating and modern plumbing.

That dream was never quite realized, as shiny new buildings cannot in and of themselves solve poverty. Construction problems like asbestos and poorly designed elevators also plagued the high-rises. As the buildings fell into physical disrepair, Red Road became synonymous with drugs and crime.

Glasgow Will Demolish Its Tallest Buildings Live On International TV

Five of the remaining Red Road buildings will be blown up in what the organizers describe as the largest demolition ever in Europe. (One more building will remain to house asylum seekers until 2017.) The whole dynamite show will take just 15 seconds, broadcast on a giant TV screen inside the opening ceremony's stadium. Residents who live around the demolition zone have to be temporarily evacuated. In recompense, they'll get free tickets to watch the opening ceremony at venues around the city—front-row seats, essentially, for watching the ritual destruction of Glasgow's unflattering history as it pursues a new international status.

Glasgow understandably wants to showcase its bright future with the Commonwealth Games, but there seems to be something gaudy about a plan that so gleefully demolishes the city's history. Is publicly blowing up its most troubled neighborhood really a way to celebrate a city's future? [The Atlantic Cities, The Guardian]

Photos by Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images