Happy New Year! 2018 has been earmarked as the year of young people. That’s critical for Scotland’s capital – we are a university city, hosting four universities and Edinburgh College. Edinburgh’s unique place in the world of arts and culture, and ambition to be the Digital Capital of Europe, are both driven by formidable young talent. Edinburgh would be a much poorer city without that.
There are several projects and events to celebrate the year, but a lasting legacy is needed. So, Ne’erday being a time of lists, here’s four challenges to make 2018 a real year of young people.
Let’s start with housing as it is where our city is most starkly divided by age. Over the last 40 years wealth inequalities have grown rapidly, fanned by an increasingly unaffordable housing market. If you are under 35, home ownership is all but out of reach; rents from private landlords have soared by 34 per cent in the last seven years and increase in holiday lets has been likened to modern-day clearances.
Small steps in 2018 could make a real difference: capping rent rises through a rent pressure zone, reducing land costs for new housing and tackling the loss of homes into the holiday market.
2018 will also see the launch of a new economic strategy for the city – with an emphasis on “inclusive growth”. That needs really focused support for the people most left behind in getting access to work and training. One example is our young people who are looked after – in residential care, foster care or kinship care. We are collectively their parents and need to do better by them in setting them up in the world of work.
Over the last three decades young people have taken advantage of freedom to learn, work and travel in other countries. That is why there is such dismay, in Edinburgh generally (where 75 per cent of us voted to remain in the EU) and young people especially, about the shambles that is Brexit. It’s going to be the dominant political issue of 2018 (again) and a deal that preserves freedom of movement and trade would be at least some legacy from the ashes.
And what kind of world are we leaving for future generations? The teenager in my home can reasonably expect to see well into the 2080s or 2090s. The decisions we make in 2018 will affect what that the world will look like. Whether we turn our back on city congestion and embrace cleanly-powered public transport, walking and cycling (as the best of our competitors are doing). Whether we drive up standards of home energy efficiency (and in so doing wave goodbye to fuel poverty). Whether we rise to the challenge of a more resilient local food economy. And whether we preserve and future-proof the green spaces that make Edinburgh so liveable and loved.
In those ways I believe that we can make Edinburgh a better city for young people and that in doing so we would make a better city for everyone.
So, have a great 2018 – whatever your age.
Melanie Main is Green councillor for Morningside.