There is so much about Edinburgh which makes it special to the people who live, work and visit every day. This unique charm demands we take extra care in making decisions on how best to transform the heart of the city so that it works for everyone.
This is why it has been important for all of us who are working on the City Centre Transformation to see the best examples of placemaking and people-friendly design – to ensure we get the best for Edinburgh.
We’re currently in the final days of a major public consultation exercise through the Council’s Consultations Hub (ends 12 November), inviting people’s feedback on some pretty radical proposals for how Edinburgh looks, feels and functions for generations to come – ideas which came directly from residents, school pupils, voluntary organisations, businesses, transport providers and lots more stakeholders who joined us at workshops in spring.
But it’s not enough to simply gather public feedback on the proposals through consultation alone. It is also essential for policymakers to visit other towns and cities, to discover how they make their spaces cater to the needs of the people who live there. We want to learn from other city leaders, developers, planners and councillors about some of the successes and pitfalls they have experienced along the way.
It was with this inquisitive and open frame of mind that we, along with City Centre Transformation project director Daisy Narayanan, travelled to London recently – thanks to the help of Sustrans – to meet with Will Norman, the city’s walking and cycling commissioner.
Over the past decade London has seen a huge increase in the number of people cycling throughout the city. It has pioneered some hugely successful and interesting walking and cycling projects – which have transformed local neighbourhoods and the health and wellbeing of the people who live there. It’s also the place with the best data collection and monitoring in the UK, so they know what impact they are having.
Being able to discuss some of the aspirations for Edinburgh was hugely inspiring and to learn more about some of the opportunities and challenges that both and London and Edinburgh share when it comes to making our cities safer, more accessible and easier to travel around by foot or bike.
A highlight of our short trip was a visit to Waltham Forest, to find out more about its pioneering Mini Holland project, and meet people who helped transform the borough, including council leader Claire Coghill and deputy leader Clyde Loakes. Thanks to a £27m government grant, the project has laid the foundations for better connected town centres and is preventing rat-running in residential areas while encouraging more people to get out and about on foot or by bike. It has done this by closing streets to cars and changing them to wide, priority cycle lanes, improving and widening pavements and creating more public space and seating.
The changes to the borough have also dramatically improved the health and wellbeing of the lives of its residents. Locals are now expected to live longer thanks to a combination of becoming more active by walking and cycling for longer after changes to local streets and neighbourhoods, but also because fewer households are living in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution.
London is a vastly different city from Edinburgh, of course – from its infrastructure and funding through to the different ways it approaches and deals with issues which arise. Our transformation project must be formed with collaborative action and decisions. Edinburgh’s city centre is a place for all of us, and, taking inspiration and guidance from others, we will make it into a space which puts people at its heart.
Transport and environment convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes and vice convener Councillor Karen Doran.