If Aberdeen’s got the granite, Glasgow’s got the people and Edinburgh’s got the castle, then what’s Dundee got?
No, it’s not a riddle – it’s what my pals asked me when I told them I was picking up sticks from Glasgow and flitting to Dundee.
And I replied, smug as anything: “Sky.”
After a couple of years of towering sandstone corridors, Dundee’s low, open skyline was a breath of fresh air.
I loved walking down the High Street and knowing that if I peered down any side street, I could see right to the river.
With just the Discovery standing majestically against the silhouette of Fife, it felt like Dundee in 2015 was a city that knew how to make the most of its natural surroundings.
Of course, that’s because the waterfront had just been flattened.
Then they built the V&A – the first obstacle on the horizon.
But fair enough, I thought, at least the building itself looks interesting. You could argue it creates a skyline, rather than blocking it out.
My goodwill towards the waterfront development took a hit, though, with the construction of the new train station and the visual nightmare that is the Sleeperz.
Why on Earth would you ruin such a lovely view with such a big beige monstrosity?
Dundee doesn’t need another office block
And so it’s gone – Slessor Gardens? Lovely, a spacious, green slice of urban peace.
The weird, giant, metal whale next door? Not so much.
Pavement cafes? Delightful. Big sandpit? A strange choice, but ultimately inoffensive.
Social security offices? An absolute aesthetic menace.
Each new addition seems to step the place forward, then back, in a weird Waterfront line dance.
Now, ground is breaking on the headline-making Site 6 development, just across from the V&A.
The patch of ground will soon be home to another horizon-blotter; a six-storey office block. Because somehow, another office block is exactly what Dundee city centre is needing.
Never mind the fact Dundee companies are struggling to fill their office spaces enough to justify the rents on them already.
Or that since the rise of hybrid and home working post-Covid, virtual workspaces are becoming more and more normalised, making costly (and environmentally unfriendly) journeys less desirable for prospective employees.
This is a time for re-evaluating the office space which already exists in the city and using that to meet demand, rather than creating a business district in the middle of what is currently a leisure hub.
Should we follow NYC and sell the skyline?
And not only will it be big; if the planning documents are anything to go by James Thomson House will be ugly too.
An ironic name, considering the eponymous late architect was venerated as the “creator of innumerable schemes to make Dundee the City Beautiful” by cultivating wide open spaces at the waterfront.
It’s his vision which should be honoured, not his name.
Yet the plans show a chunk of grey Lego, with all the grace and charm of a multi-storey car park.
The saving grace of this is, incidentally, that it’ll have a 26-space car park.
If that could be used on weekends to ease up city centre parking, at least it will have a fraction of the function of the eyesore it resembles.
The whole thing reminds me of the strange phenomenon that takes place in New York City and other major real estate destinations, where ‘air rights’ can be bought.
Buying up air rights means you have the right to build – or not build – on to your property at certain heights.
In Dundee, where river views drive up property prices – and losing them can drive them down – this seems like something we might soon have to consider.
Still, the spades are already in the ground and the plan is in motion, so there’s nowhere for this grumbling to go.
The proposed end date for construction is 2025, so my approach now is to make the most of that spacious feeling while it lasts.
And perhaps I’ll be wrong, and this will be the best thing for Dundee.
I only hope that in pursuit of progress, the city doesn’t ‘develop’ itself out of one of the things I think makes it so special.
Anywhere can have glimmering streets of towering office blocks – but there’s only one silvery Tay.
And only one patch of sky above it.