It’s easy to appreciate why Edinburgh’s population is growing. With great amenities, a rich and vibrant culture, a wealth of green space and a booming tech scene, the draw to stay and visit is obvious.
Yet as the population continues to grow and we live longer, we need to ensure that this historic city can adapt to meet the needs of a population living into its 80s, 90s and longer. I am reliably told that one in three children born last year should expect to live to over 100. This has a huge impact on how we will support more people living longer and independently in their home in future.
While most people elsewhere think of Edinburgh as an affluent place, even after watching Trainspotting 2, we live in a city today where 16% of all residents live on low incomes (and indeed that percentage grows above 25 per cent when we look at residents in Forth, Leith, Portobello, and the Sighthill/Gorgie areas). Most damagingly, 21 per cent of children live in poverty. Having been born and brought up in Edinburgh during the 50s and 60s, and having experienced living and working in Glasgow, London and Newcastle where there is longstanding evidence of widespread poverty and inequality, the more ‘hidden’ nature of this continued problem here often has made it harder to grasp and overcome.
Imagine Edinburgh in 2050 with a proper supply of good quality affordable and secure housing for all its residents, with much reduced inequalities and no poverty. This would mean no child ever having to experience the insecurity of temporary accommodation. For me this is about ensuring that Edinburgh is ‘one city’ for its residents with everyone enjoying in its economic success and spectacular natural beauty and heritage.
How do we achieve this?
First (and most obviously) we need to ensure that we have enough housing to meet the needs and demand. Housing supply is already stretched in the city and this in turn pushes up prices and rents, heightening inequality as those on lower incomes (and a growing number of young people) find their housing costs increasing and out of reach. Land supply is also an acute and often contentious issue. More development doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice treasured green space or our heritage if we are using that space intelligently.
Second, we have to make sure we have the right types and mix of housing. An increase in older adult households will mean needing to increase the type of support available to people in their homes, including adapting existing homes and using new technologies which provide more ‘intelligent’ new and existing homes in future. This will also require a good mix of affordable homes for private rent and at different price points, for social rent and for purchase. This ‘mix’ should be part of every major new housing development in the city.
Third, we must build and grow communities which engage their residents. Cities thrive when their people work together for their shared interests. Our communities should be safe, secure and well maintained at a minimum, but also include the activities and amenities that bring people together. But housing alone does not make a community. The school, local health, local leisure, retail and access to public open spaces are all essential ingredients.
I believe that these three actions will go a long way to ensure that come 2050 Edinburgh will have the necessary housing and community facilities to be ‘one city’ for everyone to live in, work in and enjoy.
Keith Anderson, chief executive of Port of Leith Housing Association