On Thursday the 26th of August, Greener Leith was lucky enough to be invited to a Charrette (that’s a workshop in Architect speak) organised by the council, at Ocean Terminal.
The aim of the workshop was to look again at what had been achieved in the regeneration of the waterfront area (that’s Granton, Newhaven and Leith Docks to most people) as part of a process for developing a new Area Development Framework. We were expressly told that this wasn’t supposed to change any of the existing planning permissions that apply to the area, but the idea was that the workshop would ‘influence’ the thinking of key landowners like Forth Ports and the city planners in the future.
There were about 50 people in the audience, who were a mixture of politicians, landowners, councillors, housing association staff, public agencies, business representatives, and local organisations like Greener Leith and the community councils.
In the morning, we were asked to consider a few questions. First up, we were asked, “What kind of place will the Waterfront be if we continue to do what we have been doing?”
The post-it notes came back with words like ‘souless’, ‘fragmented’, ‘monolithic’, and ‘inhuman’ on them. Summing up, one of our facilitators, Diarmaid Lawlor, for Architecture & Design Scotland, told a story about how his two year old was ‘bored out of his mind’ when he took him on a walk along the waterfront path along the Western Edge of Western Harbour (the path in the photo above) even though the setting is totally spectacular and the place should, or could, in theory, be as exciting as Princes Street.
We then moved onto considering what kind of place the Waterfront should be. And this is where we asked for your ideas via Twitter. We got a huge response, and below we provide a flavour of some of the things that people outside the room were asking for:
We did our best to make sure all these tweets were transferred to post-it notes and added to the wall, to be considered by planners later. As you can see – it ended up pretty full!
Next up we heard from a Scot living in Manchester, Neil McInroy from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. He proposed that a successful place is a ‘resilient’ place. So, for example, when it is shocked by a recession, or public sector cut backs, it can bounce back quickly. And when it is presented with an opportunity, it can react fast to make the most of it. Whilst he explained this, he was actually jumping up and down to illustrate the importance of ‘boinginess’ in places, as he put it.
It was interesting to hear planners and architects speaking about ‘resilience’ as a ‘buzz word,’ – this concept of local resilience is also a hot topic amongst environmental groups too. We also heard lot’s of other metaphors to explain why the old approach of “Master Planning” hadn’t worked. Rather than plan out absolutely everything, the council should ‘conduct more and play less,’ and regeneration is like a ‘petri dish’ where the council just needs to set the right conditions for desirable things to grow. The main metaphor of the day, was the body metaphor. If the council can focus on getting the ‘beating hearts’ of the neighbourhood right, then, so the current thinking goes, the rest will follow.
He encouraged us all to think about regeneration as a process that involves the Private Sector, the Public Sector and the Social Sector, and one of the exercises we did in groups was to try to estimate the relative sizes of these three economies, and the strength of the linkages between them. The implication being that a ‘healthy heart’ has all of these three areas pulsing along together.
In our group, looking at Leith, we came to the conclusion that the private sector was slightly bigger than the public sector, with the voluntary/social sector making up about 20% of the economy. However, when talking about the local economy it’s quite hard to work out.
We made the point that some large businesses, like the new ASDA at Western Harbour, might actually remove money from the local economy as even though they’ve created jobs, they’ve also contributed to the demise of nearby businesses. Research by the New Economics Foundation undertaken in England showed that £1 spent with a local independent business is worth £1.76 to the local economy, and only 36 pence if it is spent in a business based outside the area. What does that really mean? Well, everytime a new large supermarket opens, 276 jobs are lost in the local economy.
A local economic resilience strategy might therefore need to look at how smaller, independent businesses can be attracted to the waterfront – and try not to rely so much on ‘big box’ retail.
However, we also heard how public sector service cuts can impact on the regeneration process. We heard a story from one resident of the new Granton flats, who had moved there with their family soon after the flats were built. Since they moved in, the recession kicked in, building stopped, the local primary school is to be closed, the bus services have been reduced, the tram connection to Granton looks more and more unlikely and they are stuck in negative equity unable to move anywhere else.
This personal story illustrated better than any amount of ‘place making theory,’ how public sector cuts can impact on the regeneration process too. If the city needs the Waterfront regeneration process to make progress, they must think about what impact any new round of cuts will have. This said, there were others in the audience who pointed out that it took 30 years to build Charlotte Square, and that the scale of the Waterfront regeneration is huge – perhaps patience is required and perhaps also people were led to believe that everything could be built in a day. What is it they say about Rome?
In the afternoon, we did more workshops, trying to identify the ‘hearts’ of the various neighbourhoods and the linkages in-between them. In Leith, we’d already done a widespread consultation on the top 10 local destinations and so the ‘hearts’ of Leith (no football jokes here please) we came up with were:
- The Foot of the Walk
- Leith Links
- The Shore
- Ocean Terminal
We also came up with a ‘future heart’ for the area – the docks area between Ocean Terminal and Western Harbour. This area has tremendous potential, with proposals to improve Ocean Terminal, ferries to Fife, and a more accessible waterfront.
And we came up with a possible ‘broken heart’ – the proposed Biomass Plant. We all felt that this proposal would have such a negative impact on the other local ‘hearts,’ especially the Shore, and Ocean Terminal areas, that it would in fact undermine the resilience of the local economy. It’s a little known fact, but Leith has more Michellen starred restaurants than any other area of Scotland. Who will come to Leith to spend good money on a fine meal at the Shore, if they will be eating in the shadow of giant power station?
What happens next? The planners now intend to go away and come up with a revised local area development framework that will take account of all this feedback, with a view to guiding both public sector and private sector investment to take more account of the value of these existing centres – and the aspirations for the future neighbourhoods that may be built along the Waterfront.
Apparently, in about three weeks time, we’ll be invited back to see the first draft of the revised area development framework. Needless to say, we’ll be tweeting from that meeting too – and this time hopefully our phone battery will last a bit longer.
Greener Leith would like to thank everyone who gave us their ideas by Twitter on the day. You can follow Greener Leith on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/greenerleith