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Friday18 August 2017

When the mighty fall, we must rise

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Once upon a time, there was just a sandy creek where fisherman drew pearls from the brackish murk. One day the pearl fishers decided to build themselves a city, but they soon discovered they had nothing with which to build it. Not that that stopped them. They bought everything in and, in return, they paid people in promises and dreams and visions: of glittering towers, gigantic palms, oil turned into sweet water.

Once they had started making promises, the fishermen couldn’t stop, and they ended up promising the World. Rather, they built it. They conjured an archipelago from the waves, and each of its islands they named a different country. They were going to build the Universe, too, but Nemesis had to strike sometime: last Wednesday, to be precise. The World has become a spectacular ruin, just like the real one.

Spare a thought for those who languish on its desert islands, surveying immobile cranes on the hazy horizon. They are sentenced to live in a ruin, built on promises of a future that never quite arrived.

Meanwhile, closer to home in a less glamorous universe, there’s another story about futures that never came to pass.

This Monday, John and Ruth Daly returned home after an all-expenses-paid night away in Glasgow. It might or might not have been a lovely night, but when they got home, they found that their entire neighbourhood had turned into a heap of rubble. While the Dalys were out, the modernist tower blocks that surrounded their low-rise flat had been dynamited in 15 spectacular seconds.

The Dalys had moved to Sighthill in the sixties, and liked the area so much they bought their flat when the opportunity arose in the eighties. What, they must have thought, could be a more sensible investment than bricks and mortar? Over the last year or so, their investment has evaporated before their eyes as people have been relocated, windows and doors stripped out, and now the buildings themselves demolished.

The Dalys can’t afford to move, and now they face years of inhabiting a ruined building site. There are all sorts of bright futures proposed for the area, of course, but the Dalys have seen enough of those to not believe they’ll arrive any time soon.

Present circumstances have sentenced all too many like the Dalys and the inhabitants of the World to a similar fate. If the Future isn’t going to pass any time soon, then we need to think about what should happen with dormant building sites now.

The answer is unlikely to be a building. These stalled places are short, rather than long-term opportunities; places ripe for the ephemeral fruit of festival, garden, car boot sale or economic venture as yet unimagined.

Empty sites may look like disappointments, but they might hide opportunities. How often, after all, do large chunks of prime estate lie empty? If we can divert ourselves from pre-crunch dreams of Ozymandias to more immediate, apparently trivial concerns, we might just find ourselves in a position to take advantage of them. Suggestions for the World on a postcard, please.

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