Graham Hill - Sustainable growth is key to Edinburgh's future success #Edinburgh2050

24 March 2017

Graham Hill

In our latest instalment of the #Edinburgh2050 blog, Cities Director for Scotland at Arcadis Graham Hill tells us his vision for Scotland's capital in 2050...

It is an exciting time for Edinburgh. Already one of the most thriving and successful cities in the UK, the desire to continue to grow successfully and to innovate means that one of the real benefits of the Edinburgh 2050 City Vision will be to set out a blueprint on how we want to see our city evolve.

As an internationally focused city, Edinburgh needs to capitalise on its vision to become more outward looking. We need to continue to adapt and change to ensure our city remains one of the greatest in the UK and the City Vision will do much in terms of guiding direction and focusing priorities.

Edinburgh ranks in 13th place according to the recent Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index. This assesses the top 100 cities in the world and scores them according to how the city performs in measures of People , Planet and Profit/Economics. Arcadis’ research showed that Edinburgh is the second most economically sustainable city in the UK after London.

Despite this, there is still much to be done. Crucially, in the midst of any change we want to see Edinburgh retain its character, and allow people of all backgrounds to live in the city centre. It is therefore essential that we increase the access to and provision of affordable housing and make a concerted effort to eradicate homelessness and poverty in all areas of the city. With Edinburgh’s population predicted to surpass Glasgow in the next 20 years, we need to ensure this growth is sustainable, with improved energy, infrastructure and increased housing capacity to improve quality of life.

What is great about Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is internationally renowned as a centre of history, culture and the arts and incorporates a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Branding itself as the World’s Leading Festival City, the city holds an enviable position as a centre for tourism and is an attractive place to live and work.

Businesses are attracted here by the high calibre of its workforce and large population of younger professionals working in financial services, technology, scientific research, life sciences, higher education and tourism. The Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index indicates that residents can expect onaverage higher salaries and lower living costs when compared with other UK cities. 

An abundance of green space contributes to a welcoming and enjoyable ambience and encourages a wide variety of recreational activities to take place within Edinburgh’s boundaries. Due to its compact size, Edinburgh is easy to navigate on foot or by bike and has excellent potential to promote active travel and reduce emissions for residents.

What could Edinburgh do better?

However, if our city is to maintain its standing in the world economy there are still a number of areas that need to be addressed. With growing inequality in housing provision, the challenge is much greater in the face of expected population growth and the impact that this will put on already strained travel networks, housing, health services and recreational facilities.

- Housing is becoming increasingly decentralised, which means the distance and stress of commuting is likely to increase. All areas of the city must be connected to a modern and efficient transport system. Improving road infrastructure, as well as addressing the availability of houses in areas of employment will do much to help minimise loss of skilled labour moving out of the city. 

- Edinburgh’s road infrastructure does not stand up to the rush-hour test. Although our bus services are enviable in comparison to other UK cities, the overall network is inferior when compared to many global cities. The tram network has not yet fulfilled its potential and must undergo significant expansion in order to provide the required increase in capacity and frequency.

- There is an increasing strain on housing, and if the city cannot cater for demand then we will lose residents and deter new entrants to the city as the limited stock drives up prices. The rate of new housing availability will lead the strategy, however Edinburgh also needs to build communities, connecting homes with jobs and ensuring that housing developments cater for a range of demographics, including affordable housing.

- We need to improve the number, quality and accessibility of sports and recreational facilities. Provision for active travel arrangements offers a key opportunity to help the local community realise numerous health benefits, as well as alleviate road congestion.

What should Edinburgh be like in 2050?

Housing needs to be located near jobs and transport routes and, to narrow the gap in housing inequality, cater for a range of demographics.

We also want to see the expansion of the current tram network to reach and connect all areas of the city, increasing overall accessibility and providing economic benefits. This would reduce the dependence on private vehicle travel and thereby improve the quality of the environment.

By 2050, we should be moving towards, or have moved entirely to, autonomous vehicles. This technology promises a significantly lower capacity road network, freeing up space for cycleways and footways.

For essential private vehicle travel, we envision a future with a smart ‘state of the art’ traffic operations system to eliminate traffic congestion, where travel using fossil fuels is significantly reduced, or replaced completely by sustainable fuel sources such as electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells. This would require changes in the city to provide improved fuel replenishment infrastructure.

Increasing cycle network provision and improving the quality of Edinburgh’s cycling infrastructure will further incentivise sustainable travel. This could bring huge benefits to the city through increased access, decreased strain on road networks and a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the local community.

A truly international city

We want Edinburgh to become a 24-hour city, with increased public transport provision through the night, and less reliance on the traditional ‘nine to five’ day.

Flexible and home working has increased over the last decade thanks to improved communications technology, and this trend should continue towards 2050. In order to accommodate and encourage this, Edinburgh must improve its night-time services such as public transport and provide more lit cycle/walkways and expanded pedestrianised areas, creating a safer and more welcoming smart city for those who live, work and visit.

We would also like to see greater access to green space and sports and recreational facilities. This would help improve social cohesion and enhance Edinburgh’s public wellbeing. Green space is an essential part of Edinburgh’s character, and we could do well to adopt a scheme similar to New York City’s MillionTreesNYC; a citywide public-private initiative to plant 1 million trees in the city.

Adopting a collaborative and sustainable approach to reducing Edinburgh’s impact on climate change and air quality is an essential part of our vision for 2050. Taking the greenspace concept even further, we should follow the example of several cities in the USA where publicly accessible ‘forest gardens’ have been planted. These are designed to provide crops, fruit and vegetables that the public are encouraged to harvest and pick for their own use. This collective and collaborative approach has huge potential benefits for social cohesion, environment and public health.

Edinburgh has fantastic potential to lead by example and re-shape the way cities are developed globally. With strong leadership and a collaborative approach to change, the future looks bright for Edinburgh and its citizens.

Have your say and get involved with the #Edinburgh2050 City Vision >