Apartment, Arthur's Seat, Cloud Seeding, Economic Growth, Edinburgh, Environment, Firth of Forth, Germaine Greer, Housing, Housing market, Koen Olthuis, LDP Main Issues Report, Leith Walk, Local Development Plan, Meteorological Rockets, New Town, Pentland Hills, Pentlands, Pollock Halls, Technology
Tychy has previously reviewed the Main Issues Report which precedes the draughting of Edinburgh’s Local Development Plan. But here are some additional proposals to liven up the LDP:
Build Housing Estates in the Sea.
The technology already exists and some of the architecture is seriously impressive. The Dutch architect Koen Olthuis, for example, has recently designed a stunning island complex of sixty water-studio apartments. Rather than struggling to cram 18,000 homes on to Leith Docks, why not float them offshore?
A fleet of housing estates bobbing about north of Granton could only be achieved with considerable funding from central government, and the citizens of Edinburgh may be prejudiced against big development projects following the catastrophic mismanagement of its single, solitary tramline. But the sheer spectacle of modern “aqua-tects” reclaiming a huge chunk of useless Nature for human use would, in all sorts of profound and subtle ways, restore popular confidence in our city.
Imagine Edinburgh’s most fashionable citizens abandoning the New Town for a genuinely new town on the water. Imagine the Firth of Forth filled with elegant housing, each apartment powered by tidal energy so that all of the lights pulsed in unison as the waves lapped gently against its balconies. Imagine ending the day in an armchair overlooking the sea, rocked to sleep by the Firth.
Down with the House.
Most of the housing built recently in Edinburgh has taken the form of apartments, not least because only modest pockets of land have been released to developers. But even if there were no longer acres of blank soil upon which plant suburban villas in rows like turnips (and there are!), modern homeowners are increasingly unwilling to stomach such a grim fare. Whereas my parents’ generation previously watched “The Good Life” and “Coronation Street,” today’s twenty and thirty-somethings have grown up on “Friends” and “Fraser,” and they are subsequently conscious that a beautiful modern city can be only made with shining apartments.
The apartment allows a more efficient use of space and available resources. The community becomes a place where you can adventure at night – a labyrinth of homes, bars, cinemas, and arcades all piled on top of each other – rather than an unsettling wasteland where everybody scuttles away to their own homes once the sun begins to set. In an apartment, the homeowner is liberated from a lifetime of DIY and “compulsory gardening.” And what could be more tiresome than a garden? Over to Germaine Greer:
The house is incapable of improvement, it cannot demonstrate new building styles or a new building ethos. Most domestic architecture – ninety-nine point nine repeating – has no architectural value whatsoever, regardless of whether it’s listed or not. Suburbia is the least efficient, most expensive, and dullest lifestyle there is. Excitement is Manhattan or Dubai, not a sprawling echo-town on the edge of nowhere. If you want to live in a place that is really elegant, that makes the best use of available resources, including light and energy, then you should really live in an apartment. You don’t have to have a hedge. The house is over.
The LDP should formally declare a moratorium on all house-based housing in Edinburgh. But developers should be equally required to demonstrate greater innovation and ambition when envisioning the apartments of the future.
Build a new Pollock Halls.
Pollock Halls currently stands as bed-and-board accommodation for first-year students at the University of Edinburgh. The University already manages a broad portfolio of mixed student accommodation, and working within their present business model, they have the wherewithal and the incentive to raise further student housing estates. As student housing is generally seasonal, the University profits during the Edinburgh Festival by transforming its vacant accommodation into hotel rooms. A new Pollock Halls would make a dent in the currently high costs of student living, whilst the extra student housing may free up apartments in the city centre for families and professionals.
The only difficulty is the location. The derelict Shrubhill House site on Leith Walk, and its surrounding land, comes to about half the size of Pollock Halls, but so many planning problems can be simply overcome with a bit of ambition. They should build lots and build high. Tychy will never understand the policy of making all of the city’s architecture huddle together under the skyline, without anything cheerfully poking its head out to say hello.
Build on the Pentlands.
There is plenty of space amidst this monotonous and undistinguished landscape to build housing, particularly at the foot of the hills facing Edinburgh, alongside Swanston village. Contrary to popular perception, Swanston is a manmade settlement, rather than something which grew there naturally. There is no incentive to build on the eerily-beautiful higher Pentlands, due to the sheer lack of infrastructure, but in years to come, when large swathes of the middle-class may be unable to procure homes, they may well scream at the remaining members of my generation, “Why didn’t you build on the fucking Pentlands?” There is land enough around Balerno and Currie to found a small town, and to meet future demands for housing, we will increasingly need to build towns rather than merely estates.
Hand over the Keys.
Barracks are, of course, already housing, and the army’s Dreghorn and Redford Barracks will be soon put on the market anyway as part of the army’s planned withdrawal from Edinburgh. But one may generally wonder why the city retains military barracks, when, with their desolate parade grounds and outbuildings, there is some prime suburban land up for grabs.
Not only Change the Climate but Control it.
This year’s Edinburgh Festival was almost washed away by record levels of “precipitation.” If Noah had been in town, he would have freaked out and started herding together the fauna. Tychy remained undeterred from exploring the Fringe, but by the end I had thrown away two pairs of demoralised trainers and a collapsed umbrella, and some of my cardigans have never been quite the same since.
One cannot calculate the loss to the city economy that resulted from the deluge, but clearly more people would have left their homes for the Fringe if the sun had got his hat on. I felt particularly sorry for stallholders in venues such as the C Soco beer garden and George Square, as these plucky makeshift plazas were effectively closed down by the rain.
We must look to China for perhaps the most famous attempt to master the weather. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the authorities used meteorological missiles to shoot down any cloud which ventured too near to the Opening Ceremony. This “cloud seeding” technology is very much in its infancy, but Edinburgh already boasts an Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences – which has to exist for some earthly purpose – and this facility could be mobilised in our war against the skies. The various hills surrounding the city centre, including Blackford, Corstorphine, and Craiglockhart, could provide potential sites for meteorological rocket launchers. Rather than waiting for summer, we should implement it.
Run for the Hills.
Tychy will not hear of any development upon the city’s beautiful garden hills, but what about inside them? The LDP professes an obligation to provide over 1000 sq metres of office space, but with an urgent need to use any spare land for housing, we must identify alternative locations for the offices of the future. In the present economic climate, there will be more of a market for housing than office space, and so the best land should be earmarked for future homes.
Edinburgh possesses an extensive portfolio of hills – such as Calton, Corstorphine, and even Arthur’s Seat – which could be gutted to provide office space. The lack of natural light and low air quality make the interiors of these hills unsuitable for housing, but with adequate air-conditioning and subterranean pedestrian access, Arthur’s Seat could contain thousands of council offices. Unsightly and space-consuming facilities such as police stations, call-centres, sewage works, and Murrayfield could be installed within these hills, tidying away the various blots on our landscape. Moreover, the stone extracted from within the hills could provide cheap and readily-available materials for future housing developments.
Safety should be paramount and clearly the geological implosion of a site such as Arthur’s Seat could have drastic consequences. But research and development should proceed into freeing up this promising new urban space. It is surely not beyond the wits of Edinburgh?