The launch of the mission to define what Edinburgh should be like in 2050 is a bold step, but it can only be a “snapshot” of what we want our city to be like in the future.
A Vision for Edinburgh in 2050 needs to be clear and real. It needs to be connected to reality – the reality that we know – but it also needs to be flexible enough to take in new circumstances in a fast-changing world.
Constructing a vision for the city in 33 years’ time is a bit like producing a painting, a picture to guide leaders and policy-makers in the coming years when there are decisions to be taken – crossroads to navigate – and also give every citizen a real measurement of progress against which those who make decisions on our behalf can be held accountable.
Three things are necessary to construct a useful Vision. The first is to make sure it is rooted in reality, because people will be more supportive if it builds upon real experiences or, should I say, remedies real problems which we experience.
Ask most Edinburgh folk and I suspect the first thing they’ll demand is that by 2050 it’s a place where the bins are emptied efficiently and our roads and pavements are a pleasure to navigate (on the occasions when I am in central London I am struck by the relatively pristine state of the roads and pavements. Why not here?).
And I’d also suggest that most people will expect that in 2050 there will be a transport system which works with minimal congestion and gets them from A to B without fuss. With current problems there is a reasonable likelihood of transport remaining a key issue in 33 years’ time unless a new approach is taken.
Second is flexibility and responsiveness. The problem with talking about the future is that most predictions get it wrong. The world changes in unexpected ways and we need to adapt and respond to those changes.
We must be prepared to respond flexibly and imaginatively to events and to the unknown event which will inevitably crop up. Who in 2006 predicted the banking crash of 2007? Not many in Edinburgh, that’s for sure. The “safety first at all costs” culture and a reaction to any problem with more regulation, bureaucracy and process is just too stifling. We must accept that the innovation and entrepreneurship so vital to our future have never flourished because someone brought in a new rule.
Flexibility means adapting to changing circumstances with enthusiasm and imagination is the ability to see the potential. For example, however we voted in the EU referendum few of us really expected a vote for Brexit, but the dreary doom-mongering and refusal to accept the result is the opposite of the enterprising mindset which needs to be part of our DNA in 2050. Democracy has spoken and we should be working to exploit the opportunities it presents, encouraged that the short-term predictions of disaster have proved spectacularly wide of the mark.
Thirdly, we need confidence; inspired by the achievements of the past but not hidebound by them. With a school in every parish and Guthries’ “ragged” schools we showed the world how to provide a universal education for all, rich or poor, while the beyond-brilliant James Clerk Maxwell ushered in a new era of science. Memorials to poets, thinkers, reformers and, yes, politicians too, are a daily reminder of the city’s rich heritage and of a can-do attitude which will drive the future.
A confident, un-constrained but considered city is something we can all buy into.
Cameron Rose is the leader of the Conservative group on the city council