What can possibly go wrong with Leith's Euro makeover? - Susan Morrison
The council has announced Leith is having a make-over. Traffic is to be curbed and outdoor spaces developed. Benches will appear so we can stroll, drink and dine outdoors. We shall cycle and jog and the car will be firmly put in its place.
Leith is to be given a European ‘vibe’. We thought it already had.
Now, which bit of Europe do we mean? When people witter on about European vibes I tend to find they are channeling Parisian streets, Copenhagen waterfronts and the outdoor cafes of Venice, not the Neapolitan slums, the Gdansk shipyards or the red-light district of Amsterdam. Best check which Euro-dream you’ve bought into before you start.
Here in the Republic we'll see your Euro and raise it to global. We shop with the United Nations, in Chinese supermarkets, Turkish coffee shops and Polish bakeries. About a decade ago, I counted 27 nations represented on Leith Walk, 28 if we include the Welsh.
Naturally our Euro ‘vibe’ is more Leith than Paris. Well before the pandemic, dining al fresco was commonplace, if you count a kebab on the Kirkgate benches.
Pavement pop-up bars are positively passé round these parts. One searingly hot day, I watched a pickled pair lean nonchalantly against a telephone junction box. They had clear plastic pint glasses, a bottle of Vodka, a can of Irn Bru and also, and this is a crucial part of the recipe, two blackcurrant ice-pops. With tremendous care they balanced the glasses, poured vodka, Irn Bru and then added the ice-pops.
The Irn Bru gold clashed magnificently with the purple ice. In the pantheon of cocktails, New York boasts the Manhattan. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Leith’s very own mixological miracle, Shore Sunset.
The new plans are illustrated with the dreaded ‘artist’s impression’. They’re faintly worrying. All the people are just white cut-out figures. The weather is suspiciously good. There’s no litter, graffiti or vandalism.
Perhaps they plan to export all Leith’s messy, grumpy, lumpy people and replace them with sleek replicants, cycling to jobs in sassy start-up tech companies past slender yummy mummies holding the hands of obedient toddlers.
In this brave new world, the tenements on Great Junction Street have been pushed further apart. The roadway has been cut to two carriageways and the pavements widened. As things stand today, one parked car can cause chaos, but sometimes the buses can manoeuvre past, because Lothian Buses drivers have nerves of steel. I see future mayhem with a dumped BMW.
I’m all for car taming to liberate pedestrians but how about some TLC for the current pavements? A stroll to Tesco can take on the challenge of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade stepping on those sinister floating stones. One wrong choice, and bam, down you go.
We already have lots of cycling. The trouble is, it's not the trendy start-up people of artist’s impressions. It's angry sweary hoodie-wearing lads on Just Eat bikes. And they’re on the pavements.
The traffic is very European already. We have snarl ups on Duke Street spewing more emissions than a French farmers protest up the Champs-Élysées.
I’m sure it’ll be fine and dandy. These folks are expert town planners, just like the people who condemned the original Kirkgate years ago. What can possibly go wrong?