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Scott Begbie: Let’s bring people back to the heart of Aberdeen

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There is a sense of history coming full circle with the plans for flats to be created at the Monkey House on Union Street.

You see, the grand building on the corner of Union Terrace was once a common meeting place for folk who went “walking the mat”.

That was what Aberdonians did in the good old days before Netflix. They put on their best togs and went for a stroll up and down Union Street, either with their mates or their dates.

And for the latter, it used to be a case of “Meet me at the Monkey House.”

Many a match was hatched on the mat… although I do vividly recall an old family friend telling me about watching blokes standing on the corner of Union Terrace, forlornly looking at their watches, then skulking off with their tail between their legs having been royally stood up.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with plans for flats at this iconic spot?

Well, there was one essential requirement for walking the mat. People.

People who not only visited the heart of the city to work and play but who actually lived there.

And right now, that’s what Aberdeen city centre – and Union Street in particular – desperately needs. People.

Let’s get away from this idea the Granite Mile needs more retail outlets offering everything for a pound, the latest mobile phone or a vaping kit.

The days of Union Street as a major shopping hub are more hopeful memory than present-day fact.

In our post-Covid world, the direction of travel will be more home working, less need for office accommodation.

So two of the main foundations of Union Street today are on shaky ground indeed.

Instead, then, let’s envisage it as a living breathing community. One where there is a cafe culture, where there are interesting independent shops and boutiques. Where there is a sense of community being built up by people who call Union Street home and not just somewhere to catch a bus to the suburbs.

Which is why bringing people back to the heart of Aberdeen is rightly key to city centre regeneration plans.

Not wall-to-wall exclusive and executive pads, though.

There has to be a mix of housing that suits people from all walks of life.

Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing how Aberdeen might change. A cultural quarter was shaping up nicely, with the Music Hall, Art Gallery, His Majesty’s, all being brought together around a reborn Union Terrace Gardens.

The enforced pedestrianisation of Union Street has given us a glimpse of how it might be if freed from the chokehold of traffic.

It’s not that much of a leap to imagine it full of people, drawn by a revitalised sense of Union Street as the new cool, not the old has-been.

So, let’s get people back where they should be, at the heart of Aberdeen. Who knows, they might even start walking the mat again.

World of crime has opened my eyes

You know that saying about art being transformational? Well, I’m living proof.

Up until a couple of years ago, my voracious book-reading habits took in many things – but not crime.

Murder and mayhem and clues to solve? It simply didn’t turn my crank.

But then Granite Noir came along and put crime fiction front and centre, to the extent it caught my attention and opened up a new world. Now I am a fully paid-up fan of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and about to discover David Baldacci. Who are all taking part in Granite Noir this weekend! It would be a crime to miss them.

I don’t have Scooby-Doo over where gritters are

I have a wee question for the wonderful people who run Aberdeenshire Council… what am I paying you taxes for?

Specifically, why am I coughing up my hard-earned cash just to be let down by a council service when I really need.

The case for the prosecution presents the hilly road beside my house that last week became impassable first thing in the morning courtesy of the snow and ice that left cars stuck and churning.

What’s that? Go down the hill instead? Sure, except for the flood prevention work that has closed the road.

And why does anyone need to be travelling in lockdown anyway?

How about the key workers like carers and nurses who need to get to their jobs to look after vulnerable people?

These vital staff managed to get where they needed to be by sheer dint of others rolling up their sleeves and getting them through.

Yes, of course the council has priorities and the guys on the gritters do a great job in difficult circumstances.

But it would be nice to see the high-heid-yins deploying more gritters to keep more of our roads safe and moving once the key routes are clear. Maybe we could get one of those with a cute name we read about… like Sir Andy Flurry or Skid Vicious.

Personally, I think the one for round these parts could be called Scooby-Doo. As in Scooby-Doo, where are you?

This article originally appeared on the Evening Express website. For more information, read about our new combined website.