Nestled on the northern bank of the Firth of Clyde, at the tip of an inlet on Scotland’s western coast lies Bowling, a small village in West Dunbartonshire. With a meager population that is just under 1,000 people, Bowling exemplifies the serenity that Scotland has to offer. In its heyday, Bowling was well-known for ship-making, which largely took place in and around the Bowling Port. Today, as the village is looking to “modernize,” the Bowling Port has become part of a larger development plan of the Bowling basin.
The Bowling railway station, along with Bowling Port, was the pride and joy of the village in the mid-19th century. The development of the port and railway aims to create a bridge between the village’s past and its present and future. As part of the Bowling Port master plan, the village is working on restoring a defunct railway-swing bridge hybrid with the intention of turning it into Bowling’s first linear park.
A linear park is an urban space that is longer than it is wide and is built on old train tracks or passovers suspended over canals, rivers, or other roads (think New York’s High Line, Berlin’s Mauerpark or Seoul’s SkyGarden). Some have expressed interest in what the park will add to the village’s urban fabric, with the hopes that it will attract visitors and engage the local community.
“The restoration of the area’s iconic railway bridge to its former glory is the next step in that story,” said Design and Development Manager at Scottish Canals, Helena Huws. “Now we’re looking to [bring in] further investment, employment opportunities and vibrancy to Bowling.”
While the prospect of adding a linear park to Bowling’s fabric seems to appeal to the aesthetic of the village, there also lies historical significance in “repurposing” the swing bridge. Since the bridge once served the people of Bowling, connecting the village with other parts of Scotland, village leadership wants to continue using it as such. The new route would form a direct connection between the Forth & Clyde Canal and the National Cycle Network route in the direction of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
In other words, the planned linear park is seen not only as pretty “urban forestry,” but also as a way to connect Bowling with other parts of the country – making it more than just an aesthetic addition to the village.
Understanding why urban parks are developed informs how a city or town could benefit from these spaces. New York’s hallmark, the High Line, has found itself in murky waters with community leaders almost eight years after the Big Apple got its first linear park. The High Line was marketed as targeting economic opportunity and community-development – a venture that was supposed to boost tourism in the city while providing a space for the community to integrate itself. However, some have criticized the joint public-private venture model for promoting economic inequality while the wealthy reap the benefits of using public funding.
Each city’s configuration determines how and where an urban park will be placed as well as the community’s interaction with its green space. There are, however, a number of considerations that set some urban parks apart from others. These considerations, like community engagement and economic output, among others, dictate in what manner an urban park becomes part of a city.
There seems, however, to be a common theme with urban parks in our cities: they either make it big or they flop. As with Bowling’s proposed linear park, historical significance and economic and communal benefits are major concerns for village leadership and the community. Given the circumstances around it, is safe to say that Bowling’s linear park is not being planned to provide developers with much-needed photo ops.