Glasgow’s City Portrait workshops begin

Early insights from the first Glasgow's City Portrait workshop

Summary written by Annika Hjelmskog, Research Associate for Glasgow's City Portrait




Glasgow’s participation in the Thriving Cities Initiative is now fully underway! We are excited to share some photos and early insights from the first City Portrait workshop, which was held with Glasgow City Council staff on 25 April 2022.



The event marked an important milestone in the well-established ‘town and gown’ partnership between the City and the University of Glasgow, building on the priorities identified during the Green Recovery Dialogues, as well as laying some groundwork for the new £10.2 million NERC-funded GALLANT strategic research programme. We are continuing to work together on the social and climate justice agenda, to identify and trial innovative solutions to deliver more sustainable living.

Policy Officers from across a large number of Council departments joined the University of Glasgow and C40 Cities research team to explore what ‘Thriving’ would mean for the City of Glasgow. We looked at the City from distinct but interconnected perspectives on social and ecological wellbeing, and reflected on Glasgow’s local context and global reach.



These social-ecological/local-global perspectives make up the ‘four lenses’ of a City Portrait (shown below). During the workshop we were fortunate to benefit from the expertise of city staff working across a large range of policy sectors, who helped us start answering that crucial Portrait question: 


'How can Glasgow be a home to thriving people, in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet?' 


Below are just a few of the issues and ideas that the groups discussed in relation to a thriving Glasgow. The discussions focussed on some of the existing challenges, strengths and opportunities for Glasgow to improve its contribution to human and planetary wellbeing.


Local-Social 

  • Intergenerational poverty is a long-term, entrenched challenge for Glasgow, and many Glaswegians are facing additional pressure as the cost of living intensifies. A thriving Glasgow would have nobody suffering from hunger, or unable to afford to heat their home.
  • Glasgow’s public servants are passionate about tackling health inequalities, and reducing the stark gaps in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy that currently exist. Improving mental wellbeing is also a clear priority.
  • Educational services are hugely important for future generations, and there is an opportunity to teach children about climate justice and social responsibility early on.
  • As for councils everywhere in the country, balancing tight budgets across many important services is challenging. There is concern about the unintended consequences on the “social foundation” of having to find substantial additional investment to meet the urgent environmental goals from within existing resources. 


Local-Ecological 

  • All land (especially vacant and derelict sites) has an impact on collective wellbeing, whether that is positive or negative. Ownership and stewardship of the land are crucial enabling factors, which need to be managed holistically. Whether spaces are publicly or privately owned, they should not become fragmented or siloed.
  • Our current measurements of ‘value’ are heavily skewed towards financial metrics. We need to assign meaningful measures of value to natural assets, like our green and blue spaces, and better understand the cultural and historical significance of some of these crucial sites.
  • We need more holistic approaches to improving air quality and removing pollution. Some of these will be nature-based solutions, such as planting more trees and bringing more biodiversity into the city through managed rewilding. Other important actions for air quality will include large-scale switches to low-carbon forms of transport.


Global-Social 

  • We need to be responsible consumers and prioritise the wellbeing of people around the world who are part of our supply chains, even when we cannot directly see the effects of the material and working conditions of those who provide Glasgow with goods and services.
  • Glasgow is a large retail centre, so it processes more than its share of online shopping returns. How can we be sure these returns (e.g. new clothing, electronics) do not end up in landfill, or as other waste?
  • Cities like ours will need to prepare themselves to support and welcome climate refugees.


Global-Ecological 

  • We need to tackle our culture of over-consumption and embrace ‘share and repair’ patterns of living, to reduce our global footprint that comes from excess waste and unsustainable raw material extraction.
  • Reducing our carbon emissions is essential, and there are possible opportunities through regenerating vacant and derelict land in ways that could sequester carbon. Through this lens, a Thriving Glasgow was framed as a low carbon city where everyone walks, cycles or takes public transport. The City would provide the necessary infrastructure to enable this, such as good cycle parking facilities, plenty of benches for sitting down and public bathrooms.
  • Our local food and farming systems are a priority area for action – we are dramatically overshooting the ‘nitrogen and phosphorus loading’ planetary boundary, so we need to reduce the chemical fertilisers we are using in agriculture.


'Four Lenses' Template


The groups discussed what thriving would look like in the context of each lens individually, as well as mapping some of the connections, relationships, and interdependencies between the lenses. It is early in the project to fully understand such complex interactions, but these dynamics will become clearer as we continue this series of workshops with communities and other stakeholders. The data will also be analysed through GALLANT over the next five years. 

We identified several examples of how actions or decisions taken locally could lead to positive impacts across the other lenses, to maximise their co-benefits. On the other hand, there were many discussions about how certain actions could lead to unintended or unforeseen harms if not carefully thought through, taking into account the perspective of all four lenses.




For example, balancing the need for cheap school uniforms with the cost of cheap school uniforms. School uniforms can work as social equalisers for children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. However, adding several items of clothing to a child’s wardrobe (when they might otherwise just wear their existing clothes) has an additional material and laundry footprint. Initiatives such as “school uniform banks” might encourage more circular practices, and better recycling and reuse of clothing that children quickly grow out of, but we still need to look closely at the supply chains and resource use that is associated with school uniform mass production. 

Throughout the workshop, a rich, detailed view of how Glasgow might look as a Thriving City really began to take shape!



What comes next? 


The Glasgow City Portrait will be developed over the coming months and an initial version will be published in early 2023. It will include an assessment of how well we are currently meeting our aspirations, as well as identify action points, policy levers and helpful indicators that will lead us closer to our thriving vision. You can follow our work on Glasgow City Portrait here.


The City Portrait will be built through a combination of desk-based research and collaborative, interactive events. As Glasgow continues its work on sustainable solutions, the City Portrait will evolve, and provide a tool to both steer and record the City’s transformation. 

We are planning a number of introductory and follow-up workshops throughout 2022 with stakeholders and communities across the city. If you would like more information, or to get involved in the process, please contact our project manager Petra Baiba Olehno

To find out more about GALLANT and the Centre for Sustainable Solutions, follow this link.


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