Supermarket Sweep!

On 25th January 2012, Morrisons (one of the supermarket chains in the UK competing for a bigger slice of the pie) opened its automatic glazed doors to its customers in the East End of Glasgow.

Correction. It opened its doors to those who can get there by car!

As an urban designer, what’s happened has left me livid about the way certain developments creep their way into gap sites like the infamous grinch and consciously ignores its surrounding context. In the case of Morrisons, the supermarket has cunningly turned its back onto the main street (Gallowgate) right in front of our eyes!

This is not an attack on the supermarket locating itself in one of the more deprived areas of Glasgow (some may argue it will help regenerate the area), rather it is the way in which it has gone about doing it.

One would think that to gain more customers, it would make a conscious attempt to front onto the main street. Common sense, right? This would make it more legible for pedestrians and create an activated frontage along the street.

However, this is the East End of Glasgow we’re talking aboot here. So, we can cut them some slack and forgive Morrisons for not wanting to make an effort at addressing any urban design principles (e.g. legibility, connectivity, activated frontage, placemaking..and the list goes on) when working up its plans. Or can we?

Designing Places / Designing Streets
Just as a background to recent Scottish policies (yes, policies. not guidance!) on placemaking and street design, the Scottish Government published Designing Places and Designing Streets (which are to be read together) which identifies qualities of placemaking that any development should achieve (have a distinct identity, safe and pleasant, easy to move around, welcoming, adaptable, sustainable and beauty) as well as street design which reverses the trend of designing streets for vehicular movement first, back to creating streets as places for people (i.e. pedestrians). Both policies are material consideration in determining planning applications and appeals.

Calton vs Iraq

The nearest housing locale would be Gallowgate to the east or Calton to its immediate south, which one would assume would be the target market for the store. The new supermarket is easily accessible by foot from both of these areas.

Gallowgate is located in one of the more socially deprived areas of Glasgow, the East End. Recently, investment in the form of housing (Moore Street development) as well as plans under Glasgow Housing Association to redevelop its housing stock near the Forge Shopping outlet has in some ways gone to give the area a boost in lifting its status as a more desirable place to live (especially if it can be linked to Dennistoun and Duke Street to the north). Gallowgate connects to the Saltmarket to the west (the old part of Glasgow). Along the way, a string of ‘quirky’ establishments in the form of The Barras and Barrowland attract local folk looking for brick-a-bracks (heaving with activity at the weekends) as well as providing an established music venue. The new Morrisons is the next big establishment along Gallowgate before the Moore Street housing development and The Forge shopping outlet at its westerly end. Although the Morrisons is not really a ‘pearl along a necklace’, it is nevertheless a crucial development that could address the lack of streetscape and public realm along Gallowgate. The opportunity was there, but squandered.

Calton on the other hand has the lowest life expectancy in Scotland where an average male lives only to a ripe old age of 54 years (lower than that of Iraq).

Those living in the East End also has one of the lowest access to private transport in Glasgow. So, the question that crops up is ‘why create front door for those arriving by car when the majority living around the area can get there by foot?’.

Like many other retail giants who have experience in developing out-of-town retail centres (guided by their team of ‘retail gurus’ of where best to locate the store relative to car parking), developing inner city areas using out-of-town models simply does not work. There have different issues and are contrasting typologies. Those flocking to the supermarket will predominantly be commuters dropping by in their cars, doing their groceries on their way out of or into Glasgow.

Morrisons have managed to create a ‘bubble’ for car owners to shop whilst keeping costs low by locating along Gallowgate.

Genius!

Wild Wild East : Rules need not apply
Given the close proximity to the Glasgow City Centre, would a plan for a development in the centre of town that backs onto a main street or route be passed by the planning authority? Would the Morrisons model be allowed to happen anywhere else centre of town? Absolutely not! But it’s the East End we’re talking about here. Rules need not apply!

In a way it’s not the supermarkets that are to be blamed. They are there to make a profit at the end of the day. The planning authority on the other hand, has a duty to ensure that developments follow the nationally relevant policies in placemaking and street design. Some may argue that new store would bring in more economy to the East End locale. However, this should not compromise place making and definition of street typology along Gallowgate.

What has happened gives an impression that the supermarket projects a ‘feed the car, not the people’ attitude.

More Reason to walk to Morrisons
The current arrangement of the store-front facing the car park with its back facing the main street could have (and should have!) be dealt with by turning the front facing Gallowgate.

This could result in a more animated south-facing frontage onto the street, would give better urban legibility to Gallowgate and help promote pedestrian access to the store. It would also make sense to locate the ‘cold storage’ part of the store to the north of the site (currently located to the south!).

This would give more reason for people to walk to the store as opposed to making it easier to drive there.

Bad Precedent
The new Morrisons on Gallowgate (rather than ‘Barrack Street’ as advertised!) has managed to sweep any sense of placemaking and urban design under the tarmac of parking. The danger is that it will set a precedent for other retailers using out-of-town supermarket models as they inch ever closer to inner city areas of Glasgow. So, who are the winners? Obviously the store and inner city commuters who go home with the grand prize of increased sales and trollies of groceries. Commiserations to the loser, i.e. the local residents, who go home with their consolation prize of more vehicular traffic choking the side streets of Gallowgate.

Now that’s what i call a ‘Supermarket Sweep’! I wonder what Dale Winton would say about all of this?

KS

4 thoughts on “Supermarket Sweep!

  1. Excellent piece of text Kamil. It would be interesting to hear the Planners point of view on how this solution to the site came about. Perhaps you should send the link onto them.

  2. You have to bear in mind that the underlying concept of these supermarkets is bulk-shopping, which is difficult when you don’t have a car. So, it is inevitable that they target the car owner and not the pedestrian. Therefore, since these giant shopping hangers are designed for a different kind of shopping, place-making, street frontage, or pedestrian access become concepts that can be done without, especially since many of these jumbos are placed on cheap land (as you mentioned). Have you ever considered that maybe they want to discourage these “Iraqis” to enter? The problem is not in the design I think, but rather the capitalist concept behind such supermarket. Since most inner cities don’t have space for them and they encourage Car Aided Shopping (CAS), they inevitably get kicked out to less desirable areas and so they shut themselves off of less desirable people! No?

    • Agree with you that the concept of supermarkets is that of bulk-shopping. However, they are featuring increasingly in inner urban areas, within gap sites which do offer cheap land in some cases. If this is the case, the same rule we uphold for modeling our cities should be used as guidance for supermarkets. They should not be exempt from this as they could stifle the city’s growth and character (i.e. an out-of town model stuck in the middle of an urban area).

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