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Edinburgh Walkable City : Design Tsar

Terry Farrell : Design Champion

Walkable City – Edinburgh?

On a good day city development in Edinburgh moves as rapidly as the Sargasso sea. Even so, after four years of having a ‘City Design Champion’, you get to wondering what’s been achieved.

We’ve seen the ‘blue sky’ thinking projects commissioned by the Architecture Tsar and heard proposals to remove railings but please show us some tangible evidence of change! Castle Street, St Andrew’s Square and the Grassmarket are surely all evidence of a welcome move towards a more pedestrian-friendly city, but these projects didn’t emanate from Mr Farrell.

There are so many unloved junctions that could be reworked to augment community identity, improve aesthetics, movement, etc. but I see little change. Arcade Architects had a shot at The Causey, rightly questioning the waste of space that could easily become a good public place. Barcelona has lots of these small ‘places’. Transformations like this should have been easy wins for the Champion. Why haven’t they materialised?

Key entry points to the centre should’ve been obvious targets too, capable of inspiring thousands on a daily basis. The large roundabout at Picardy Place is a woeful entry to a city centre of Edinburgh’s pedigree. There’s no sense of ‘place’ and it ain’t very walkable. And the dreadful yellow-and-red paving that crops up in the New Town could’ve been replaced by Caithness. You can escape the traffic in Rose Street, but the cheap paving is inappropriate and the experience is relentless – unlike Copenhagen’s Strøget which strings four strong public squares together. Many of us are tired of fanfare announcements for design manifestos and architecture policies that fail to affect our lives in any significant way. More action, less talk please.

Terry certainly talks the talk: in last September’s AR he eloquently expounds upon London and sense of place. The ‘place is the client’ is a neat concept. He also talks about the ‘extraordinarily effective’ use of voluntary energy in Edinburgh and London. But some of the more successful public spaces created in recent years in the Scottish capital were not created by the city council. For example Miller Developments at Edinburgh Quay, creating a new destination. Or the delightful lochans at the Scottish Parliament. Of course a city needs dialogue but the balance needs tipping now firmly in the direction of action!

Article originally issued for Prospect magazine special feature on Sir Terry Farrell’s Design Champion legacy in Edinburgh

11 Apr 2008

Exit Stage Right Richard Murphy OBE; enter Stage Left Sir Terry Farrell
Sir Terry Farrell is proposing a £20m underground Filmhouse in Festival Square.

Edinburgh Walkable City Festival Square Cinema
pictures from Terry Farrell Partnership

Farrell aims to have pavement cafes (presumably ’more’ as All Bar One have made a valiant attempt at bringing some life to one corner) and event spaces on the square: this dull square is exactly the kind of issue the Edinburgh’s design champion must get CEC to tackle. Soon. Four years into the job you do wonder what is blocking significant action.

Terry is demanding the council sort out Lothian Road to link the space to the Usher Hall, a sensible idea. Farrell describes Lothian Road as “one of the worst examples of suburban highway planning foisted on a town centre.” Certainly the road slices through what could be a strong civic space.

Festival Square


Usher Hall

Sheraton Hotel Health Club

Cameo Cinema

Lothian Road Exchange

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