…I became aware that the camera did not see space, it saw surfaces. The camera sees geometrically – we must see psychologically.
I like David Hockney’s words. Although they are taken from the book that goes with his Year in Yorkshire paintings, they express the way I feel we should be looking at the design of cities, and especially city centres. Real life is not just about surface appearances – the look of houses, offices, shops, streets, gardens and squares – but what happens in, on and around them.
Cafe culture in Budapest
A similar point was made last night by John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee who has become something of a guru on the subject of urban regeneration. In an interview with BBC Scotland news, he cast a critical eye over Glasgow’s waterfront development. He saw too many iconic buildings and – as often happens – found that the best views had been given to car parks, “they [the cars] can sit all day looking at the river”.
Norquist, now leading the Congress of New Urbanism, says iconic buildings have a place but Glasgow needs to connect the centre with the waterfront and that means making space for people: more human scale buildings; shops, cafes and the quirky corners that people create for themselves when they get the chance.
I admit I am slightly obsessed by street life. Since I became a board member of Edinburgh City Centre Management Company I am constantly comparing Scotland’s capital with other cities. Now I am chairing the ECCM Street Life sub committee I hope we can help to encourage more creative human activity in public places.
There is that new pedestrian space in Castle Street and work will soon start to open St Andrew Square garden to the public. Then there are plans to increase public space in the Grassmarket. In my opinion all these projects represent some of ECCM’s best work and I am not alone. The weekly Farmers’ Market on Castle Terrace wins awards, now Castle Street has a monthly food market which may soon win an award (If you don’t already know, The Eating Place happens on the last Thursday every month, 4-8pm).
But we need much more of this kind of vitality. What struck me about Prague was the way live music echoed from almost every church and buskers gathered round pavement cafes, on squares and street corners to entertain the crowds. The message is that there is a good deal more to life than shopping. I would love to see Edinburgh developing more of this kind of generous, welcoming spirit. Why shouldn’t spaces like Castle Street be the stage for all kinds of art, music, dance and theatre – as well as food?
More to life than shopping: street music in Prague
Footnote: Another urban guru, Jan Gehl, the Danish architect who rolled back street car parking to create dynamic and prosperous pedestrian space in the centre of Copenhagen, was among consultants informing urban designers Gillespies on the ‘humanisation’ of the Grassmarket. Gehl attributes at least some of his success in creating public space to the fact that he married a psychologist.