It was Robert Burns who longed for the gift of being able “to see oursels as others see us”.
Aberdonians this week might have been questioning if that’s such a good thing, when they learned how some outsiders view the Granite City.
“Are the street cleaners on strike?” was the review of one German holidaymaker who had just hopped off a cruise ship, perhaps expecting to be wowed by the beating heart of Europe’s energy capital.
The fact that town and city centres across the north and north-east are shadows of their former selves is, of course, nothing new.
It all started with the rise of online shopping, killing off institutions beloved through generations like Woolies.
Traders in Aberdeen, whose wealth had been so dependent on oil and gas for decades, had to weather a fresh storm when the downturn left shoppers with far less disposable income.
And the disastrous domino effect became much worse when the Covid pandemic reduced footfall to a trickle, and further entrenched online buying habits.
It resulted in the closure of mainstays like John Lewis and Debenhams, leaving huge holes in the city centre.
Amid all this relentless doom and gloom, it can be hard to remain optimistic.
Locals show up in droves to support Union Street campaign
But apathy was in short supply at a public meeting set up to save Aberdeen’s Union Street on Wednesday.
Scores of folk, of all ages, filed into the Music Hall to show that they were still willing to fight for the Granite Mile.
They heard about the daunting scale of the challenge, including the perception of that one recent tourist, and still remained buoyant.
The message was clear: The high street belongs to the people of the city, and they are going to do their best to ensure its survival.
Now the first stage is complete, in identifying the 17 key areas the campaign wants to target; ranging from boosting footfall to improving the state of empty shops.
Group leaders are of course keen to stress that it will require “a thousand small steps” rather than any giant leap to redress the years of decline.
And in the meantime, we can all lend a hand.
Every action, whether a small one like making sure to put litter in the bin, or something more substantial like choosing to spend money in city centre restaurants, will make a difference.
Union Street campaign success must be emulated
We wish them the best, and can only hope that any success is kept a close eye on from Lerwick to Laurencekirk – and beyond.
Communities across the north of Scotland should stand ready to replicate any ideas that could help breathe new life into their own tired town centres.
A shared concern for our once-bustling retail hubs is something that unites us all.
And Aberdeen could just be the start for Our Union Street if the model can inspire a widespread resurgence.
The Voice of the North is The Press & Journal’s editorial stance on what we think are the most important news stories