Posted on 23 Feb 2017 by Marion
How can Edinburgh grow and still be special?
Edinburgh is growing and will continue to grow. It attracts and inspires people from all around the world to live here, study here, work here or to enjoy the city as a visitor. It is one of Europe’s most successful cities, yet this success brings a set of challenges that the Council, the citizens and businesses community - all of us who love Edinburgh – need to face, and work together to manage.
Edinburgh is a successful city: it also a thriving city. Not all successful cities are thriving cities; not all growth is benign. Growth that evicts creative start-ups from cheap space saps a city’s vitality. Growth that replaces established communities with holiday lets drains a city of citizens, diversity and memory. Growth that sacrifices the qualities that make the city attractive, that converts the unique into the bland and the global brand, may put money into some pockets, but at an unacceptable civic price.
Edinburgh’s biggest assets are its landscape, townscape and architecture, which blend with its history to give the city unique qualities. Unless we conserve these, Edinburgh will cease to be special. The wrong type of growth could destroy these priceless resources within a generation. Decisions taken now have lasting effects: Princes Street Gardens is still severed by the tracks demanded by Victorian railway companies. If public opinion had not stopped 1960’s plans, there would be an elevated motorway through the Meadows today. Growth combined with the financial plight of the City Council mean we need a civic conversation about the stewardship of our city. To this end the Cockburn Association advances some propositions and actions.
The place makes Edinburgh special: the landscape and open spaces, the townscape, and the setting between the water and the hills create an experience that is unique and available to every citizen, every day. We are stewards not owners of this exceptional place; we have a duty to care for it, not auction it off bit by bit. The current priority given to short-term economic development risks long-term wellbeing and prosperity.
Action: Be bold - use the planning system to conserve our greenspaces and townscape, and to demand quality in architecture, design and environmental standards.
All areas of Edinburgh have their own character and potential. World Heritage Status, Conservation Areas and numerous buildings protected for their historical and architectural qualities benchmark Edinburgh, but the rest of our city matters too. Citizens are passionate about their homes and neighbourhoods, and their active engagement contributes to the city’s vibrancy. Young people are Edinburgh’s future. For effective stewardship, let’s ensure that the history, heritage and the value of Edinburgh is shared as widely as possible, particularly among its young people.
Action: be forward looking – connect schools and colleges with civil society partners to co-produce neighbourhood plans, and to implement them.
Communities facing pressures need to be supported. The proliferation of developments and conversions for hotels, offices and student housing is displacing citizens from traditional communities in the city centre, and draining social richness and distinctiveness. Stalled regeneration scars areas most in need of investment. Engagement with citizens and innovation in funding mechanisms should be priorities.
Action: Be caring – work with communities, not against them; identify and equip potential hubs for new commercial developments in less pressured areas and be firm in steering development to them.
Edinburgh needs more houses. The city’s qualities and supply of jobs mean more people want to live here than can currently be accommodated. The pinch is particularly tight for family housing and for intermediary forms of housing between social renting and owner occupation. The location, form and density of new housing is critically important, and better integration of land use and transport across the city region is part of this. Piecemeal releases of green belt land are not the answer. Conservation of the landscape setting of the city and its ecological corridors is very important, and so is the role played by greenspace within the city. The redevelopment of brownfield land and higher housing density within the City must be a priority, though in the longer term other land will need to be found.
Action: Be collaborative - convene a summit meeting with housing providers. Follow-up with mediation, involving them and community groups to broker a charter that would promote ambitious environmental and social targets in new developments.
Edinburgh is a tenement city. Looking after the stock of houses we have is just as important as building new houses. Repair and maintenance is fundamental to conserving the city.
Action: Be far-sighted – act now to avoid deterioration in the older housing stock. Work with the building industry to create a care and maintenance system that delivers efficiency, skills and jobs.
Innovation is important to Edinburgh’s economic strength. Nobody can force innovation to happen, but as the owner of land and buildings and as the Planning Authority, the Council has levers it can pull. We need to foster supportive preconditions for creative enterprises, start-ups and third sector organisations, such as affordable, easy-in/easy-out floorspace, open networks, and co-creation. Argyll House and Summerhall show what can be done.
Action: Be passionate for innovation and creativity - Stimulate innovation linked to Edinburgh’s special strengths in tourism, financial services, education, and urban conservation.
Streets are really important, but are being neglected. They are where citizens and visitors move and meet, and experience Edinburgh. Too many Edinburgh streets are a mess, cluttered with A-boards, unnecessary signs, refuse disposal bins and graffiti-sprayed litter bins, and with uneven, unsafe surfaces, that make them difficult to negotiate for people whose mobility is impaired. Meanwhile setts, which are loved as visual links to the history of Edinburgh, are being lost.
Action: Be attentive and listening – work with communities and be responsive to their concerns about their local environments. Devolve budgets for street cleaning and area maintenance to community-level organisations or social enterprises.
Information is crucial to active citizenship. There should be no deals where information is withheld by the cloak of commercial confidentiality. There is potential to use better data management and big data to offset the shortfall in the revenue of the Council. Open Data accessible by Edinburgh citizens should be a priority of a modern local Council.
Action: Be open – integrate and share information, and help local organisations to network and tap local understanding of their place, its needs and potential.
Think global, act local. Edinburgh is an international city. It should never settle for less than international best practice. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030 apply to Edinburgh as much as to Entebbe. Goal 11 seeks to “Make cities and human settlements safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable.” There are parts of Edinburgh where air quality does not meet safe standards. Other historic cities such as Vienna have been much more ambitious in creating areas safe for pedestrians. We do not have a Zero Energy District.
Action: Be internationalist – Put Goal 11 at the heart of the planning and delivery of development.