Cities for people

By Alex Bottrill,
Cities for people - London round about

Cities often have transport issues. If we refocus ourselves on what we really want -  better cities for people to live in - we can begin to rediscover opportunities to make our cities better.

Cities are for people. We gather for social and economic reasons. Over recent years, urban areas have grown fast, spreading out quickly, and it’s a common problem to find that the historic cores of these places have to shoulder the competing demand for space, with the movement function of a street often trumping the place quality.

Edinburgh, with its UNESCO world heritage status, has an advantage over many cities in being known the world over for its inspiring built form. It’s hard not to appreciate the strong architectural statements of Georgian Edinburgh (not to mention the old town and castle); the facades are elegant and lofty and they knit together to create an elaborate network of squares, crescents and wide streets, punctuated by grand parks, the scale only fully appreciated from maps and aerial views.

Leith Walk, in Edinburgh, is one such example of stunning architecture, beautiful proportion and inspiring elegance, though it can be difficult to fully appreciate these qualities in the context of wide road space and fairly quick urban traffic.

We must let ourselves imagine the potential for such a place, where a high quality environment, healthy pedestrian footfall, people-focused street layouts and features that accommodate more sustainable forms of transport (i.e. buses and cycles) have a key role.

This isn’t about being anti-car, this is about balancing the realities of modern life with the negative effects of so many individual vehicles – often carrying just one person each – on such a majestic city as Edinburgh, a city that was largely designed pre-car.

Sustrans and The City of Edinburgh Council have been working in an interdisciplinary manner, in consultation with Spokes, Greener Leith and local businesses to design a scheme that truly shows signs of balancing out the needs of all street users. Scottish Government policy, Designing Streets, has also played a strong role in encouraging a re-evaluation of how Leith Walk works. Since the June design, there have been several iterations but we are delighted that the design that has received wide cross city support from organisations, businesses and local people, will remain the basis of the emerging design.

There are further opportunities to re-imagine parts of Edinburgh, with the ‘building a vision for the city centre’ drive from the City Council, grass roots projects such as The Causey Development Trust and experimental opportunities relating to seasonal events such as the Fringe and Hogmanay.  

You can read more about Sustrans Scotland's Urban Design work here.