With most of the population of Scotland living in towns, it is time to shift the focus on to their potential, writes Dominic Ryan
Like stepping stones of civilization across the beautiful wildness that is Scotland, our towns are key pointers to the economic prosperity and societal wellbeing of the entire nation.

They can be viewed as financial dynamos or social hubs, barometers of commercial and political cohesion or, at their simplest and best, those familiar places where we choose to work, meet, eat and sleep.

When taken together, it is not fanciful to claim our towns help make up the fabric of society: a tartan that, by the nature of our eclectic yet encompassing national psyche, must incorporate the colours of clans as diverse and distinct as Paisley and Falkirk, Ayr and Dunfermline.

Welcome, then, to a special Sunday Herald series that is dedicated entirely to celebrating this magnificently multi-coloured plaid.

Here we will explore in detail the ever-changing face of Scotland's towns, their unique people and their extraordinary places.

For, despite their often obdurate nature, wrought in sandstone and granite, concrete and steel, our towns are living, breathing, ageing and - where there is opportunity afforded - rejuvenating and regenerating themselves.

This means that, while their importance is deeply rooted in stories that must never be forgotten - after all, their influential heritage and enduring culture are a living legacy of our individual and collective history and where we have come from - it is important, too, to recognise that our towns are continually evolving.

So we recognise the incredible achievements of towns that were integral to the man-and-machine renaissance that was the industrial revolution. We salute the monuments built on the endeavours of townsfolk who mined in extremity every day for coal. We celebrate the talents of those who built ships that, to this day, are the envy of the wider world.

We recognise, too, the success of agricultural towns that built themselves up from the foundations of humble marketplaces. And the seaside towns that thrived on ocean commerce before opening themselves up to the new and exciting opportunities presented by the newfangled notions of leisure and tourism.

But, much more than all of this, we look also to the present day and to the future days of towns - because, with around 70 per cent of the Scottish population still living in these locations, such high-density locales are key elements in the success of the economic, social and environmental endeavours of the nation.

A town centre is not simply the geographical core of a conurbation; often it is the vibrant and beating heart of a town's community and the lungs of its economic life.

Town centres not only offer cherished spaces in which to live and interact; with integrated, joined-up services they can facilitate better business and drive forward industry and commerce.

It is evident their importance can never be underestimated - and so in this special series we will meet, too, those whose mission it is to persuade us to take collective responsibility to help our town centres grow exponentially and thrive sustainably.

Where there is economic stagnation, they would see a reinvention of business functions. Where there exist housing, educational or cultural needs among a town's residents, they would see a new and improved framework built that can better help that town meet the rapidly changing demands of the 21st century.

With this in mind, the Scottish Government is already committed to supporting community-led regeneration by supporting local people to take responsibility for actions that make a difference to their communities.

Its Town Centre First Principle is encouraging the public sector to continue investing in town centres.

While acknowledging town centre living requires safer and more people-friendly environments, it endorses a simplified and pro-active planning policy in support of centres.

It also encourages more to live in them, especially through initiatives such as its Town Centre Housing Fund.

Today, in the first of our in-depth analyses, we look at Ayr - the perfect example of a town that is steeped in rich history yet is ever looking forward.

Surrounded by bountiful countryside and bordered by a dramatic coastline, envied for highly coveted college and university campuses, growing in reputation as a tourist hot spot . . . we explore every facet of Ayr that makes this a Scottish town to be proud of.

Source: Sunday Herald

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