"This Road is Red" by Alison Irvine is a novel based on the real experiences of residents of Glasgow's Red Road Flats. The Red Road Flats are eight high rise residential blocks on the north east side of Glasgow, built between 1964 and 1969. Two of the blocks are broad slabs, while the other six are narrower towers. At the time they were completed, the Red Road flats were the tallest residential buildings in Europe, rising to between 25 and 32 stories in height. And at the time they provided 1,350 "houses" or flats, and offered standards of accommodation previously unknown in slum-ridden Glasgow, providing grateful residents with modern amenities, pleasant surroundings and views that extended over much of west central Scotland.
The human stories associated with the Red Road Flats are brought to life by Alison Irvine through a series of snippets drawing on the experiences of a wide cast of characters as the clock moves forward from the 1960s through decades in which the flats began to be seen in a more equivocal light, and right up to date, with the flats' planned demolition. Early residents are overwhelmingly positive, despite the problems caused by the towers swaying heavily in high winds, and we meet men, women, and children who are making new lives here. All characters are fictitious, but all are based on the author's interviews with real residents, and most of the stories are real or inspired by real events. The characters that emerge are utterly convincing and the author has a fine ear for accent and a compelling ability to reproduce it.
The 1970s saw the flats gain an unwelcome reputation for antisocial behaviour, gangs, crime and drug problems, and a fire in one block in 1977 led to concerns abut safety. In the 1980s we meet new characters, and the concierges, as parts of the story begin to be told from the perspective of those appointed to restore a sense of security to residents of the flats and who, with the help of CCTV and access controls, begin to reduce antisocial crime. The 1990s and 2000s see new arrivals in the shape of refugees, first from the Balkans and then from further afield, while a few of the original residents remain in place. It sounds odd to talk of a book providing an obituary for a housing scheme, but in many ways that is exactly what "This Road is Red" is doing: and in the process helping record a way of life that is about to disappear.