A DUTCH community project where neighbourhoods chose the brightness of their street lights and a charitable shop selling superhero capes in downtown Brooklyn were among the innovative ideas highlighted at a conference on shaping Edinburgh’s future.
The Capital’s communities need more independence to embrace the possibilities offered by new technology to improve life for all citizens at a time of public spending cuts, the third annual City of Edinburgh Council Conference heard.
Most people in Edinburgh enjoy a quality of life that is the envy of the rest of the UK and Europe, the gathering at the City Chambers was told yesterday, but the city needs to change to meet the challenge from other cities around the globe if it is to sustain that prosperity. The city also remains a city of “haves and have nots”, with one in five children growing up in relative poverty, the conference heard.
The city’s chief executive, Andrew Kerr, warned that public services need to be “reimagined” in the coming years as the council tackles a £120 million spending shortfall.
Closer working relationships with other public agencies, private firms, local communities and charitable organisations, would be key to making those changes a success, he added.
The conference heard from speakers, including Professor Charlie Jeffrey, senior Vice Principal of Edinburgh University, and Gordon Robertson, communications director at Edinburgh Airport, who highlighted how strong partnerships were key to their respective organisations’ ongoing success.
The way in which Dutch authorities had devolved powers to local communities, allowing them to make decisions about neighbourhood services and to keep a proportion of any savings to spend locally, was highlighted by Maggie Morrison, business development director at CGI, which is working with the council to implement new technology.
The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, a shop run by volunteers in the US city selling superhero costumes and paraphernalia alongside the work of local young people, was highlighted as a creative grassroots response to neighbourhood problems.
Diarmaid Lawlor, head of urbanism at Architecture and Design Scotland, told how the quirky not-for-profit company grew out of an effort by volunteers to help young people in a deprived city neighbourhood. When those behind a drop-in centre project were told they could not have the neighbourhood premises they wanted because the building only had planning permission to be a shop, they went away and drew up plans for the store.
This was the kind of action that could transform neighbourhoods, he said, without any need to spend large amounts of money.
Council leader Andrew Burns warned the city’s infrastructure was struggling to cope with the influx of people moving here thanks to our successful economy and that the Capital was in desperate need of new funding to tackle the problem.
The city’s SNP leader, Sandy Howat, highlighted the issue of child poverty and said he and everyone else in the room would have failed if they could not in the coming years slash levels of child poverty in Edinburgh.