Monday, 28 May 2012

A Vision for Leith Walk

Leith Walk has had a hard time of it lately with the scars of abortive Tram works all too visible along with gap tooth development sites stalled due to the economic downturn. All this could lead to a gloomy and downcast future for 'the Walk'. 
The fallout of the tram stopping at York Place means that later this year reinstatement works will begin to reinstate Leith Walk to what was there prior to the incursions of the Tram works. This in practical terms means replacing what are temporary traffic lights at various junctions, repairing foot-ways and the road itself which is in a terrible condition. All well a good but shouldn't the vision be raised? If Trams ain't coming any time soon can something more inspiring not be done?
These are the questions that are being asked by the local community council, the Leith Business Association (formed largely by Leith Walk traders), Greener Leith, Leith Open Space and a variety of other organisations and individuals.
Leith Walk has had a number of things 'done' to it over the years - most well intentioned but often with little or absolutely no consultation with locals and also little in the way of sustainability (remember when Lothian Regional Council put in trees but with no budget for maintenance many struggled to find water and died - thankfully this was later rectified and those that remain are liked). Because the rectifying works won't start until the end of the year these is an opportunity to pause and do that rare thing, consult on the aspirations for Leith walk so that even the most practical of reinstatement works can have an eye to the future and hopefully allow an organic development of the street to make it a great place to be.
That pre planning was kicked off a month or so ago when the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership held its last Public Meeting on the subject of Leith Walk. There was a presentation by Riccardo Marini the Council's Design Leader on place making which strayed far from the usual kind of presentation citizens are used to from Council officials. A lively discussion flowed from that and at the back of the hall there was a small interim exhibition from 'Sustainable Transformations' from students of Edinburgh University's Advanced Sustainable Design Masters Program.

Tomorrow night the 'Sustainable Transformations' exhibition will open at Out of The Blue in Dalmeny Street. Greener Leith have said that they hope that the exhibition will 'stimulate and provoke a debate as to what a future Leith could be.' The future of Leith Walk, which was described in charettes (planning workshops) for the Leith Area Development Framework as a 'Great City Street', is central to that. Some have likened Leith walk to the Ramblas in Barcelona and as a place to be, a place to visit, a place to live, work and socialise Leith Walk could lay claim to be one of the distinctive streets of the world. It certainly has a lot going on with the micro arts festival 'Leith Late' centring its events there next month. 

Sustainable Transformations will be followed up on June 5th by a meeting jointly organised by Greener Leith and Leith Open Space entitled 'Your Vision for Leith Walk' again at Out of the Blue from 6pm until 9pm. It is envisaged that this meeting will allow locals to have their voice and their ideas heard in creating a vision for the Walk.
There is a real opportunity to shape the future of Leith Walk both for those that live and work locally and for those who visit to shop or socialise there. Get involved in these discussions (the Leith Neigbourhood Partnership will be holding another meeting on this subject at a later date) and help put the great into Leith Walk.

Updates: the Edinburgh Eye blog has more on this issue and a good graphic of Leith & Leith Walk showing linkages and communities of interest.
Couple of thoughts that have come to me after writing this blog - traffic management - should a separate cycle lane be put in for the length of Leith Walk keeping cyclists safe a separate from motor vehicles? Can this and option of future rapid transit link to tram be 'future-proofed'? (to minimise future installation disruption). Public Square - Is there an option of creating a public square at Shrubhill where there are two large stalled development projects - potential to create a 'heart' or middle to Leith Walk. Could be a carbon gain from a site long associated with old diesel buses and a long lost petrol station. trees and a gathering point, potential for street performance, markets, life! 


  1. Creating something only for it to be destroyed by further development makes no sense.
    Leith Walk development should take into consideration that what is built remains and does not infringe on the tram coming down, as it shall one day.
    The problem with a cycle lane is parked cars.
    Can and should a cycle lane be on the pavement?
    Shrubhill could be a public square with Farmer's Markets and so on but sadly its more likely to be as many houses in a small space with even more cars hardly something we desire and helps the community not one bit.
    Business has its eye on profit and not on what is right or good for a community.

  2. Any plan to enhance Leith Walk would require significant investment. Where is that likely to come from?

    The shopkeepers and businesses in Leith Walk have been badly treated and it seems unlikely that they will be keen to throw money at another scheme on the basis that it might help their businesses. They have to keep an eye on profit because without profit they can't grow their business, offer goods and services which customers want to buy, keep ahead of their competitors and safeguard their own and their employees future.

    I'm sure that Leith Walk could be very splendid indeed although it obviously has a significant ways to go to be another Las Ramblas. The separation of buses, cars, scooter, cyclists and pedestrians is managed really well there and the area has lots of great places to go not to mention at least two world renowned buildings. Of course it has a number of underground stations as well, much more effective than trams.

    All we need is for Edinburgh to host the Olympic Games just like Barcelona and gain from the regeneration which follows. Easy. I won't be holding my breath though.