GEORGE Street has got so much going for it – great shops, top quality places to eat and drink, and grand buildings.
One of the many things we can thank our Georgian forbearers for is the vast amount of space they used when they built their main streets. There’s simply tonnes of it – plenty, certainly, for cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians to share. The imposing statues on practically every roundabout are just a little extra flourish that adds a touch of romantic appeal.
But, despite all its obvious attractions, it’s hard to shake the feeling that George Street could be so much more than the current sum of its parts.
This could be one of Europe’s great shopping streets. Or, if you choose to look closer to home, Edinburgh’s answer to Buchanan Street.
Yet, at the moment, it isn’t a place that invites you to loiter on the pavements. Rather, it is one where you feel everyone is rushing through. And, if truth be told, it could do with a bit of spit and polish in parts. The time is ripe for a makeover.
The latest vision for its future does seem to appreciate the street’s great potential.
There is always a certain amount of juggling that needs to be done when changes like these are brought in. A bustling place like this does need parking spaces and bus stops on its doorstep in order to function properly.
Yet there should be enough space to keep that and create far more room for window-shopping, pavement cafes and cyclists.
George Street is never going to throng with cappuccino-sipping pavement cafe customers in February, but this plan would create more generous pavement space all year round, and offers the flexibility to turn whole sections of the street over to Fringe or other festivities at appropriate times.
The fact that the revamped St James Quarter – with its new 1600-space underground car park – will shortly become a magnet for shoppers from across a large swathe of Scotland and even the north of England represents both a challenge and an opportunity for George Street. It needs to do more to ensure that shoppers and retailers will still want to visit rather than desert it for the new arcades in the east end.
There will be much debate over the details of these plans in the coming months, but they do offer a vision of a brighter future for the famous old street.