People Conservation: sustainability approaches in the post-Industrial landscapes of Glasgow

Authors and Affiliations: 

Dr Alan Leslie, York Archaeological Trust

Corresponding author: 
Dr Alan Leslie

Sustainable development seeks to address human need and improve quality of life, in which context the concept of landscape provides compelling potential as a means through which to deliver positive, tangible outcomes. Just and sustainable development requires the adoption of problem-focused, people-centred and place-based approaches, with both long and short-term ‘landscape quality objectives’1.

To achieve such objectives, meaningful involvement of people “affected or likely to be affected by, or having an interest in, the . . . decision-making”2 is crucial. Fragile communities are especially often prey to impacts from development decisions, which ought to respect landscape and human rights from a social, economic, cultural and environmental justice perspective and enshrine rights to a healthy ecology. Those communities need to be actively and meaningfully involved in determining these decisions, including who enjoys such ecology. Cooperation between governing authorities, NGOs, disciplinary experts and others in society who are effectively excluded from or permitted only tokenistic inputs to such dialogues is thus of paramount importance. This, in turn, requires acknowledgement that consensus as an outcome is an unrealistic expectation but that the creative tension produced by such interaction can be a force for good.

Agonistic approaches have tended to be eschewed by those seeking consensual outcomes, including planners, politicians and disciplinary experts. Uniformitarian approaches suit disciplinary experts in legitimising standardised methodologies, which in turn, through the generation of controlled data outputs, suit the constraints within which spatial planners operate. Relatively quick processes, leading to what may be badged as “consensus”, suit the rhythms of political cycles and the constrained budgets of those in decision-taking roles. Yet such agonistic models do exist, though they may be harder to spot because we did not create or control them. Self selecting local and external interests engaging in dialogic discourse over long time spans may not provide a panacea, but are worth examining more closely to see what theoretical and practical benefits emerge from such processes, even though such engagements rarely conclude with universally agreed common ground.

Govan is a district of Glasgow with a distinct identity founded in a long and independent history. In common with many other inner-city communities formed around dead or dying industrial hubs, Govan has become synonymous with long-term socio-economic problems. In Govan, a decades long “chaotic” process has featured multiple actors seeking to achieve better futures for its residents, a great many of which echo the aspirations of the UN’s 17 sustainable goals. The presentation will seek to demonstrate that there is great potential, and increasing evidence, for this locally focused, people-centred approach to pay dividends in establishing just and sustainable landscapes.


1. Council of Europe 2008. Guidelines for the Implementation of the European Landscape Convention, II.2.i. Available at:

2. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) 1998. Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice on Environmental Matters. Article 1.5. Available at:

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