Gina Davidson: Embrace these winds of change

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Dear Edinburgh, it’s been some year, hasn’t it? It started with the kind of snowfall you hadn’t seen since the 1970s and has ended with gales howling down your wynds and closes, across your Esplanade and promenades, and through your schemes and shopping malls, seemingly desperate to blow 2011 into the distant past.

Here’s hoping the winds are those of change, because you need it. You may be the grand old lady of Scottish cities, centre of the country’s political, legal and economic worlds but you’ve become as fat, lazy and as full of self-aggrandisement as a Big Society Tory politician.

It’s time, Edinburgh, to dispense with the fur coat, hitch up your knickers, shed a few pounds and kick some municipal butt in 2012.

For too long you’ve been a victim of whims be they from those in local government, banking, transport, housing . . . happy to see you expand without a thought to the real needs and wants of those who live within your boundaries.

Your housing market was hothoused to such an extent that families were forced to move out, unable to find decent homes while at the same time housing developers wined and dined as they sought to build increasingly towering blocks of flats which ultimately no-one wanted to buy.

You put far too many of your eggs in one economic basket with the financial services sector. The monoliths of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Standard Life were worshipped as they employed thousands of people, without a thought to the day when they would obviously have to stop doing so.

After all, scientists know that even the universe will start contracting at some point – it was bound to happen to your banking industry long before then. And the fact that a few unpaid mortgages in the deep south of America could bring your economic boom to a halt shows just how precarious it was in the first place – and how, in the words of Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman “nobody knows anything”.

Of course, much of the impact of the recession is out of your hands. There are still more jobs available here than in many places thanks to the arrival of new international businesses and the drive and ambition of your entrepreneurs, but complacency cannot be allowed to creep in.

Shops have been closing throughout town as people prefer to keep hold of the little cash they have than spend it. But that’s why you must welcome those who want to open on your main thoroughfare – rather than turn up your nose.

The jewel in your crown, Princes Street, needs taken in hand – not just with strategies, reports and vague ideas, but with action. The tram works need to be completed there as soon as possible to get the street open to buses again. The shopfronts need to be allowed to become as vibrant and as 21st century as possible – the street is not set in aspic and if it can be managed on the Champs-Elysées without damaging its historic buildings, you, Edinburgh, should be able to rise to the challenge.

Tourism has held up thanks to your old world charms, but it shouldn’t mean that good taste and self-respect should be sacrificed at every gap site just so another cheap hotel in glass and concrete can be thrown up to meet the demands of backpackers.

Take heart from the redevelopments of the Royal Museum and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – done on time and on budget and without destroying their glorious architectural past. It can be done.

Admittedly, Edinburgh, you have – so far – been spared the kind of social unrest seen across the Middle East and in the English riots. The nearest you’ve come to getting hot under the collar has been the mild- mannered Occupy protesters in St Andrew Square, although your blood did get up when the public sector workers took to the streets for their march during a one-day strike action.

But expect more of this in the year ahead. The cuts have just begun to affect your public services. There will be many more tears shed and angry words exchanged in the next year over how the city council continues to provide the kind of services your public wants.

Of course, the wind of change will be felt most in the City Chambers. The coalition of the Lib Dems and SNP will likely be exterminated in May and a new set of politicos will take over . . . even if many faces will be familiar.

Therein lies your problem, Edinburgh. You need new blood in your politics, people who don’t immediately feel overwhelmed by the enormous task of running this city, people who won’t hand all the difficult decisions to unelected council officials, people who will step up to the plate, who actually have a vision and are prepared to lead. That is the catalyst for change that Edinburgh needs in 2012.

There are, of course, some bright points ahead. The Royal Commonwealth Pool will finally reopen this year; the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo may well breed; Hearts could be sold to a more stable owner; and you will still boast 13 green flags for your wonderful parks. But it’s time, Edinburgh, to embrace change.

Here’s to a good new year.