Urban Influence: Does Where You Come From Make You Who You Are?

Preface: Back in April of 2015 my Grandparents came to stay in my house on the coast in the Dublin. They usually come about twice a year for a break from living in the hustle and bustle  of Glasgow City. On a sunny evening in spring, I was sitting out my back garden with my Grandad and we started talking about our family and his past living in Glasgow. When he started to talk about all these interesting parts from his past I realised I would want to remember them and so I hit record on my phone. He didn’t know at the time I did this because I wanted him to be honest. This conversation had nothing to do with the blog post I am writing now as it was recorded seven months ago but I feel it is an interesting topic in relation to class, family and urban spaces that I would like to share.
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A family stand outside their home in the Glasgow Gorbals. A common run down tenement type of housing in the 1950s. Google Images.

Born in 1938, my Grandad spent his whole life in Glasgow. He speaks of his time there often and strongly identifies with the city. He has not had an easy life growing up as Glasgow was an industrial ship building city in the 1900s with a strong working class population and as steelworks, coal mines, engine factories and other heavy industries went out of business it led to mass unemployment and high levels of urban decay which led to new youth gangs that were younger, more violent and more dangerous disrupting the city. Which leads me to the question I would like to discuss. How does living in a negative environment effect the person you become and can someone resist the negative life path it may take you? The area you grow up in I believe can have a very strong influence on the person you become, as Agnew (2011) describes, “the location is not just the mere address but the where of social life and environmental transformation. Examples would be such social settings from everyday life as workplaces, homes, shopping malls, churches, vehicles, etc., whose structuring of social interaction helps forge values, attitudes and behaviours.” Whilst talking to my Grandad he often mentions of his resistance against the cities problems and trying to raise his family in that environment.

Glasgow has a long history of industrialization, my Grandad speaks of his Great Grandad, an Austrian man who moved to Scotland to become a moulder, he moved to an area called Possilpark to work in a foundry and married my Great Grandmother, a Scottish woman. Possilpark is the area in which my Grandad grew up and had his family. The area grew from a population of 10 people in 1872, to 10,000 by 1891 because of the industrialization.

After the foundry closed, Possil became the centre of the Glasgow heroin trade and remained so during the 1980s. Obviously it was not a very safe place to grow up in and to raise a family and he speaks of the problems they came across and their efforts to keep out of trouble. Growing up, he joined a boxing club ran by an ex boxer to keep boys off the streets after leaving school at 15. He said he was involved in gangs but was never involved in any serious crime. He described himself and his friends as being ‘teddy boys’ a culture of the time more than anything.

13th, July 1955. A group of Teddy boys find themselves with nowhere to go, and hang around the streets of the Elephant and Castle area, South London.

13th July 1955, A group of Teddy boys in the Uk find themselves with nowhere to go, and hang around the streets. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

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Shipbuilders during wartime leaving their shift from a Glasgow shipyard situated along the River Clyde, Lanarkshire, Scotland. 1944. Google Images.

He worked many jobs in his lifetime trying to support his family, he first worked as a painter and decorator and then when the Vietnam War broke out he began working for the ministry of defence making bombs and bullets for the war, he then joined the territorial army, working as a part time soldier, peacekeeping. And from then on worked in various different jobs for the government working labour in the city. He spoke of the troubles he’d often come across in the area they lived, there were many famous gang families that lived on their street, such as the Daniel and Maxwell families who would have been the main pushers of drugs in the city amongst other criminal activity.

When my Dad was thirteen, my Grandad decided to move his family away from Possilpark to Kilcadden, still a working class area but not as troubled as Possilpark. He said, “I got your dad out of Possil at a good time, the drugs weren’t rife in Possil at that time.” He tried to get his sons off the streets and keep them out of trouble so he encouraged them to join the Royal Signals to become a cadet, which they did. After serving a year, my dad left Glasgow and moved to London. A decision which he said, set his life to be much better than what it would have if he had stayed in Glasgow as many of the people he once knew when he was young either died or are not in good life paths.

From what my Grandad said, I got the impression that the area you come from, especially if it is an urban area with many different elements of activity and social interaction, it can have a very strong influence on the path your life may take, but if your morals and background are somewhat stronger, you can resist the external influences of your environment and the troubles that can lead you onto down bad life path.

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My Grandad, Donald Gangel, sitting in my house in Donabate, Dublin. 5th April 2015.

 

Bibliography

 

History of Glasgow https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Glasgow#Modern_Glasgow

 

Possilpark https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Possilpark

 

John Agnew (2011) Space and Place (University of California, Los Angeles) in J. Agnew and D. Livingstone (eds.) Handbook of Geographical Knowledge. London: Sage.

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