curiosity about the ways of the world

Category: Global gossip 2006

Cosmopolitan points of view

Time to get our skates on

Why are Edinburgh NIMBYs so afraid of skate parks? Ray Perman reports from an inspiring enterprise in Dundee where the energy and enthusiasm of young people benefit the whole community.

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I like skateparks. That’s not a very popular thing to say in North Edinburgh just now when a disgraceful NIMBY campaign has defeated plans for a skate facility in Inverleith Park. But I like them because they give kids a great outlet for their energies and skills and keep them off the streets.

A visit to the highly successful Factory Skatepark in Dundee confirmed all my beliefs. The Factory, which cost £1.3m and is Scotland’s first indoor park, has been open two years and already has 5,700 registered skaters, skateboarders and BMX bikers. Last year it had 33,000 visits. That’s a remarkable achievement when you consider that the kids have to pay every time they use it. Trouble is negligible and on the back of skating the Factory has been able to add a range of other activities for all ages. “We’re building a 21st century community centre,” says Derek Marshall, who runs it.

The NIMBYs look down on skating as “not a real sport” but it takes skill, courage and physical fitness. Perhaps the inclusion of BMX biking – a close cousin – as a show sport in the 2008 Olympics and the possibility that skateboarding will follow in 2012 will change their minds. Ewan Aitken, leader of Edinburgh Council, has pledged to find an alternative location for the park. All power to him.


Ray Perman is chair of Social Investment Scotland, one of a large group of sponsors and funders of the Factory Skate Park.

Lisbon: elevated

While Edinburgh is inching towards a decision to install one tram route Kate MacInnes sends her views of a city where trams have been running since 1873.

Getting around Lisbon is a joy with the trams, funiculars and elevadors – all a perfect way of climbing up the hills of this great city. Although modern trams connect most inner and outer areas the old wooden trams are still in service and a perfect way to see the sites – the best route is Number 26, the old tram which takes the same route as the tourist bus but at a fraction of the price.

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The Elevador De Santa Justa takes you 45 metres vertically up to the old quarter and Carmelite convent and the Elevador Gloria saves a particularly gruelling climb up to the Barrio Alto. Want to know more?

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Lisbon’s neogothic urban lift: each storey of the Elevador De Santa Justa is decorated with a different pattern. An idea for some of those Edinburgh hills?

Brussels: lights, action, mussels

It’s around 8pm and the place is going like a fair. I am squeezed between an East European couple on one side and a Spanish pair on the other. The waiter delivering many forms of cooked mussels is French but he is speaking to us all in flawless English. So why does this place feel so unmistakeably Belgian?


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Global gossip

Today my blog is one year old. I am gradually getting to grips with the site (thank you again to Tommy and to Rob) so now I want to invite my family and friends – and anyone who may have dropped in from cyberspace (well, you never know) – to help it grow.

The idea came to me on a tram in the centre of Prague. Why not use my website to record a snapshot of the cities I visit? By the time I got off the tram I had a much better idea.

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Beijing’s Early Birds

“If you don’t come out in the morning to wake up, how will you be alive? What kind of life is that?”

Caroline Cooper’s postcard from Beijing

Overgrown with towering skyscrapers and wide-lane boulevards, Beijing’s quiet street life and old hutong homes are under threat. Preparations for the 2008 Olympics are at the forefront of city planner thoughts, heightening the capital’s urbanization.

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Early morning hours in the city parks reveal a capital’s most gregarious side…

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Dubrovnik street theatre

“Sex and drugs and sausage rolls,” there’s a guy behind me in the queue for the concert in St Salvation  with a mission to entertain. “You don’t get lager louts in this town, you get Saga louts.”  His wife is not amused: “Oh Sid, give over.”

With or without Saga louts, at night you can see Dubvrovnik is really a theatre. Maybe all successful towns and cities are theatrical sets but Dubrovnik certainly knows how to turn crumbling Renaissance scenery into a thriving, bustling stage starring waiters and restaurant owners politely accosting tourists on the relentless tread around town; live music echoing across the squares; shop keepers dressing and undressing their windows; lights gleaming and bouncing across the marble streets.


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Goodbye Lenin hello Tesco

This is an extract from a Postcard case study written last year – this year’s riots in Budapest give a new twist to the tale.
Old Soviet heroes rust in peace in a statue park on the green edge of Budapest but in the heart of this city, capitalist business is booming. Hungarian trade is fast catching up with the rest of Europe. British tourists increased by a record 97% in the first few months of 2005 and they don’t come or go empty handed. Last year’s tourists tend to return as this year’s traders and they are learning that Hungarians can strike a hard bargain. Europe’s biggest Tesco hypermarket (run by astute Yorkshireman Paul Kennedy) stocks an astonishing 90% of local produce. Unlike a lot of the UK, Magyars seem to know the difference between good salami and a plastic sausage.

rust in peace

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Postcard from Helsinki

Autumn tree tops, brown reeds reflected in the water, trams running over the bridge: my view of Helsinki from the hotel room. I am warming to a place where you can buy birch twigs in the market to thrash yourself to a healthy pink in the sauna. “Be sure to jump in the sea afterwards” said Olaf. Continue reading

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