It’s time to start a cultural revolution

Allan Crow
Allan Crow
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By Allan Crow

I was sorry to see Dundee lost out in its ambitious bid to be European City of Culture in 2017.

It’s easy to knock provisional places when they go for such big honours - but why shouldn’t they?

Up against Leicester, Swansea and Hull, they stood a cracking chance.

Yup, the grey, grim, jings crivvens and help ma bob Jute City suddenly becoming a hub for culture; the place that gave us the quite awful McGonnigle suddenly playing home to artists, musicians, and cutting edge theatre groups.

You could hear the sneering all the way from snooty Edinburgh and gallus Glasgow, as if they have a monopoly on culture.

But Dundee’s bid was exciting - this is a city that has something special. A big idea.

And, above all, a vision to make it a reality.

Walking across the Tay Bridge in August towards the city on a beautiful day, you could actually see that dream being brought to life.

Buildings were being knocked down or relocated, roads re-configured and space created for incredible ideas such as the new V & A in a stunning waterfront.

And what really impressed me was how it all fitted together.

This is no piecemeal approach to urban rewnewal where a project gets the green light and the end product is then dumped somewhere convenient with no thought to whether it even joins-up with the rest of the landscape or will be the catalyst for regeneration.

And if you are thinking ‘hmm, Kirkcaldy leisure centre fits that bill’ then you’d be spot on - the perfect example of political stubborn-ness and a failure to grasp the bigger, much bigger, picture.

Up in Dundee, someone, somewhere, got everyone in a room and signed them up to a long-term project which will genuinely transform the city’s waterfront.

It’s a cultural revolution, and winning the European title would have been the perfect reward. The fact Dundee is still going to press ahead with many of its plans for 2017 means there’s every chance it will still knock spots off ‘Ull, the official choice of the judges.

I have long argued that the cultural/creative sector holds one of the keys to reviving our town centres, and Dundee’s efforts simply re-inforce that belief. Retail remains a key player in the town centre of the future, but its role is changing and will continue to do so as we shop online and migrate out of town.

Give me a busy, bustling High street over a soul-less retail park any day - how miserable is a day spent trauchling round Fife Retail Park? - but for that to happen we have to create niche markets, and nurture more specialist shops, and ecnourage landlords to get pro-active and interested over their long-forgotten, scabby boarded up units.

Fill them with ambitious creative businesses and give people more reasons to visit, browse and, hopefully, buy, and there can be spin-offs and benefits for all.

Want to see it happening right now? Go visit the Christmas market in the old Intersport shop at the bottom of Tolbooth Street - it’s open right now.

And if Dundee can transform its waterfront why can’t Kirkcaldy?

We may not have their budget - and its mega-millions - but we have a similar blank canvas, and if we learn from their approach we can do something quite special.

I’ll declare an interest in that I am part of the Kirkcaldy’s Ambitions team looking at how we creatively re-develop the Esplanade, and some of the very early ideas put on the table are imaginative, exciting and, potentially do-able.

There’s a long way to go but the process of creating our own cultural revolution has been started. A trip over the Tay might be just the inspiration we need to really get started.