With a bit of imagination, Leith Walk could be one of the grandest streets in Edinburgh. It is already one of the most interesting but on a sunny September afternoon you can see beyond the shuttered windows to the castle on the horizon. Picture a tram gliding up from waterfront to city centre. And there you have it, a European capital. Or at any rate a northern city with the true grit and guts of Gateshead.
If only. I think Gateshead is a fantastic place. It still has plenty of problems and the coalition cuts will do nothing to solve them but the Sage, Baltic and Millennium Bridge are a waterfront explosion of hope and determination that show what can be done when city leaders know what they want. And have the courage to go for it.
This afternoon – encouraged by the excellent report on Greener Leith and some interesting response to my blog last week – I went looking for Sunbear and other pop-up opportunities in the streets round Leith Walk, snapping shuttered shops which (whether they are closed or just resting for the day) might offer space for some creative enterprise. Either way the view shows the challenge and excitement of an area that needs just a little more confident encouragement.
Closed, resting or ready for inspiration?
I keep thinking of Gateshead. A few years ago, when I was the rather odd one out on the board of the old Edinburgh City Centre Management Company (now Essential Edinburgh) I was invited to join a city council planning committee day trip. This was the annual outing organised by the then convenor of the city council planning committee, Trevor Davies. His intention was to spark ideas. (does that happen now?)
We walked through Grainger Town and admired urban regeneration engineered by Terry Farrell. Newcastle is impressive but it was Gateshead that got me. I had never heard city councillors speak with such passion for the place and people they represent.
The Angel of the North heralded a deliberate and incredibly courageous campaign by the council to bring new life to industrial wasteland by investing in art. And so to the Sage, Baltic and Millennium Bridge.
Away from the waterfront there are still plenty of social problems so the council is working hard with private enterprise to encourage a sense of community in the heart of the city. And how? The council is helping to finance the restoration of the iconic Central Bar and has invested in The Shed an artist collective in a redundant furniture shop. Once again they are choosing art and local pride as the engine of growth and hope. We need such a civic vision for Leith.
Popping up on the way to the new Brunswick Street gallery just off Leith Walk.