Nairnbairn has sent the Gurn a Christmas message:
Now that the 2011 Carbuncle Award has been announced and the year draws to an end, it is time for Nairnbairn to break a self-imposed silence. This message is also being copied to Urban Realm, and to the Editor of the Nairnshire Telegraph.
So.... Linwood was presented with the 2011 ‘Plook’ award. Can Nairn celebrate a lucky escape?
It is very tempting to look at the pictures of the grey and crumbling wasteland at the centre of Linwood (or for that matter the concrete and tarmac that encircles Fort William) and take consolation from the thought that Nairn is much nicer than those places. So it is. But schadenfreude (delight in the misfortunes of others) is not a noble sentiment.
Did that stupid, sad, and foolish Nairnbairn get it all wrong? Well, perhaps not entirely.
The nomination was provocative and over-the-top. It was meant to be. As several commentators have (reluctantly) acknowledged, local residents have lived for so long with the consequences of bad planning and poor design that many had almost ceased to notice. At least the Carbuncle story stirred some reaction. Even indignation is better than apathy.
The public response also revealed a lot about local attitudes. Nairnbairn had deliberately chosen to use a pseudonym, in the hope that readers might concentrate on the views and the arguments put forward, and not on the personality, hair colour, bank balance, home address or family ancestry of the person writing. Having lit the blue touch-paper, Nairnbairn decided to remain silent, in the hope that the debate would focus on the issues, and not turn into a “shoot the messenger” campaign.
Sadly, with a few honourable exceptions, that hope was not fulfilled. It was predictable, but depressing, to observe how quickly local figures lined up, not to comment on the planning or architecture of the town, but to condemn Nairnbairn’s motives, to call for Nairnbairn to own up, to explain and defend the nomination, to “have the courage of his/her convictions” – indeed to be run out of town or worse. Was Nairnbairn a crank, a fool, a malign public enemy, a prejudiced resident or (worst of all!) an upstart outsider? Some felt no inhibitions about launching forth anyway. Nairnbairn was “a snob”, said a local editorial. Councillors rushed to condemn: Nairnbairn was “a sad individual”, “unhelpful and thoughtless”,and “unfair”. Online critics – perhaps not realising the hypocrisy of their own anonymity – joined in: Nairnbairn was a devious developer, a self-appointed arbiter of taste, a coward, a loser. Bring back the stocks! Let’s have some witch-burning! Welcome to medieval Nairn!
Such reactions to the Nairnbairn nomination turned out in fact to be the clearest evidence, and strongest justification, for its author’s choice to remain anonymous. Even after the award was announced, the chorus continued. The town’s elected councillors, so quick to condemn and criticise, and so keen to claim credit for the efforts they say they have made, should perhaps remember the cautionary warning: Qui s’excuse, s’accuse.
Others both locally and in online comment, were more perceptive, agreeing that there was a basis for Nairnbairn’s nomination. Some endorsed it. Many recognised that it reflected a deep affection for Nairn, a disappointment at some of the past planning decisions and failures, and a desire to see successful and attractive regeneration and development. In his review of Nairn for ‘Urban Realm’, Mark Chalmers the architect and journalist offered a balanced and accurate description of the character and qualities of the town, and rightly concluded that a Carbuncle award would be unjustified.
The nomination did however make people look around the town, and think about its appearance. If this episode has underlined that the residents of Nairn need to appreciate and to look after what they have, then it will not have been in vain. If the energy that was put into condemning Nairnbairn, and the pride that led people to defend the town, can be devoted to improving it, then some good may yet result. The nomination was indeed, as one resident put it, “a rallying call”. As the thoughtful editorial in the 20 December ‘Nairnshire Telegraph’ points out, there are some disturbing parallels between Linwood and Nairn. For Nairn to develop successfully, people need to think about what they want the town to become, and to engage with an open mind in discussion of future plans. The worst reaction of all to the Carbuncle Award decision would be an outburst of “I told you so” gloating, cries of “Nairnbairn got it wrong”, and a reversion to complacency and apathy.
Nairnbairn will continue to express opinion and comment where and when circumstances warrant it; and will hope that future contributions – like this one – will be accepted in the spirit in which they are offered: free, well-intentioned and honest debate about what is best for the town.
At this festive season and on the threshold of a new year, goodwill to all men (and women). To those who were offended by Nairnbairn’s Carbuncle nomination, sympathy – but no apology. To those who acknowledged its purpose and understood its point, thanks.
And thank you Nairnbairn but not for the nomination. Merry Christmas to you too. And that was this observer thinking the Gurn was going to be low-key for a day or two :-)