I love the brashness of America.
Until I was fortunate recently to spend three weeks there, it had been over 20 years since I was last in the United States.
What I enjoyed most was driving in the States. Its a bit of a free for all. There is no crawler lane and vehicles are allowed to overtake on either side. Now I know there are maniacs in vehicles in this country who drive like this. And because its illegal in the UK it can cause other drivers frustration to see someone breaking the law and getting off with it. But in America because that is allowed other drivers seem to accept the position without concern.
One thing I do admire is the customer care aspect of America. They are genuinely interested in serving you. Nothing is too much trouble and all company members are committed to that ethos.
Okay, sometimes it’s a bit over the top, but much better than the very bland “enjoy your meal’ or the “no problem” as if it would normally be a problem, that we see here.
America is a positive “can-do” country. Their outlook is one of “lets do this,” rather than our attitude in the UK which is one of providing a list of reasons why one cannot make this happen, and if all else fails the excuse used is: health & safety wont allow it.
Now don’t get me wrong, America has much to commend it but they don’t have a caring NHS, there isn’t a welfare system that caters for everyone from the cradle to the grave. Their record on safety at work is suspect to say the least, and their gun laws are appalling. But you cannot deny they are good at certain business-related things.
Thirty years ago, when i first visited America, I went to see the Houston Astrodome. A massive family stadium which housed American football, international wrestling and baseball games. It had been purpose built on top of a swamp, at the cost of $24 million.
I wanted to see it again this trip. However I found that it had been demolished. A new convention centre has been built nearby and the Astrodome site turned into a very attractive area containing retail outlets, restaurants, flats and offices. Very different planning laws, I accept, but a strong positive approach to shopping and restaurants. Here we can’t even fill Union Street.
I decided to look at the Houston museum.
On the second floor of the museum was an exhibition of dinosaurs etc and on the ground floor a cinema with films relating to space exploration and understanding the planets.
On the top floor they had an oil experience centre which was interactive and educational. It showed the history of oil, how is was gathered from the earth, sometimes through oceans and the multiple products made which stem from oil. It eventually led up to how a renewables program could be enacted from this. It was incredible. It had been funded by the oil companies based in Houston.
A modern, attractive and educational museum.
In Aberdeen in the 1980s a group of businessmen got together and formed a body called ‘Aberdeen Beyond 2000.’
They were looking for ideas which would attract visitors from all over the world to the Granite City, in the millennium, once the oil wealth had stopped.
They spoke about raising Union Terrace Gardens to create a modern shopping plaza. The then Regional Council paid for pilings to be constructed beside he railway line under Union Street in case the idea was taken up.
It never was and is now mired in controversy.
They spoke about the development of an underwater restaurant led in off the beach front which would allow visitors to see the underwater life.
Both ideas were rejected by the local council at that time. Finally they suggested an oil experience centre which could draw visitors.
That suggestion was greatly watered down by the council of the day, and this is what the Maritime Museum became. Virtually a record of how Aberdeen has relied on fishing, farming and shipbuilding until the oil came.
Had there been a more open attitude between the public and private sector working together, as we had in the Grampian Initiative, I am sure we could have produced something special and memorable for the energy capital of Europe.
But it is not too late.
We have great opportunities opening up with the development of the new harbour. Cruise ships with lots of tourists will want to see the city and spend their money in it. Also the upgrade of the Torry Battery to include a visitor centre with a restaurant where people can enjoy the dolphin display. This will make the road from the new harbour into Aberdeen city centre a ‘golden mile.’ An opportunity to redevelop the area to become a hive of tourist activity. But it will need forward visionary thinking and of course money. Time is fast slipping away.
Len Ironside is a former champion wrestler who served as an Aberdeen councillor for 35 years, four years as council leader