In the early hours of Sunday morning, I make the journey to Sighthill to witness the demolition of two Fountainwell towerblocks. The decision to raze these flats met with opposition and controversy – glasgowresidents – and while Glasgow Housing Association’s motives for these recent mass demolitions remain suspect, the local media speaks of ‘killing off’ whole communities. Feelings run high. As someone who grew up in a place where entire streets vanished in the space of days and weeks, I’m moved by their stories, their forlorn pleas to preserve these buildings, repositories of their fondest memories. Or as one former resident put it, the monument of my youth.
Arriving at the corner of Keppochhill Road and Carlisle Street, there’s an almost carnival atmosphere. It’s just before 2am and the streets throng with onlookers, a couple of hundred at least – kids, mums and dads, old men, gangs of young girls, dogwalkers, neds on bikes. Most of them hold up mobile phones, poised to take pictures. Tony’s ice cream van is making the most of it. On a grassy bank I join the serious snappers, the trainspotters, the demolition demi-monde, the Flickr and Skyscraper City fans who swap info on forum noticeboards about what they call the blowdown. If you hurry, says one, you can catch Sighthill and make it to Paisley in time. By coincidence another demolition is scheduled there this morning, three blocks in Millarston.
In front of me stand the two floodlit towerblocks. Behind them stand the remaining high-rises, still inhabited, a few with lights on. I’m reminded of George Thomson’s mighty poem, The City of Dreadful Night –
There’s an expectant, electric mood. A warning siren sounds to heighten the tension as white, unmarked vans circle the exclusion zone, hazards on, moving slowly. While we wait, shouts go up from the crowd , false countdowns – five, four, three, two, one – then silence.
At the allotted time – 2.30am – comes a third, final mournful warning. Then a series of sickening explosions followed by the sound of cracking and a dense rumble. It takes all of five seconds for the two towers to collapse, swathed in massive dust clouds that spread eastward, lit by bursts of camera flash. The entire sight strikes me as unreal. I feel strangely emotional, particularly when the crowd applaud, perhaps forgetting those who’ve been moved out of their homes, uprooted, exiled from friends and neighbours.
As the dust settles, revealing two giant mounds of rubble, the crowds disperse. I overhear a woman calling out – Look! You can see the community centre now! The irony isn’t lost on me. As people jump into their cars or walk off into the night the place is deserted save for a few fluorescent-jacketed workers. As I leave I notice a tent marked ‘press area’. It’s empty. What else can I conclude but that the wholesale loss of our city’s landmarks is no longer newsworthy.