I had the pleasure of walking along Edinburgh’s Seafield Road for 45 minutes the other night as I returned from my ’local’ Post Office collection depot. I gambled that I could flag down a taxi and not have to walk too long but, given I passed only one other person the whole way (and zero cabs) this was clearly naive.
Still, the freezing wander was oddly enjoyable with the calm Forth waters occasionally visible to my right. Sadly though most of this coastal stretch is stale and lifeless, crying out to be renovated given how naturally appealing this part of Edinburgh is.
There can’t be many cities in the world that would allow a sweeping waterfront to be taken up by a clutch of car garages, a cat & dog home, a water salination plant and a landfill site (soon to be expanded). Infact, if you type ‘seafield road edinburgh coast’ into Google Images, the first two pictures you get are of McDonalds.
And yet, the coastal geography of the area between Leith and Portobello is comparable with famous sweeping coastlines around the world:
This may be tantamount to asking for a new wave of dull, drafty flats sprinkled with sparklingly new but tiresomely dull Pizza Express’ and Starbucks’. Big deal right? Well, if Edinburgh Council could (literally) lift its gaze beyond the horizon, perhaps a new vision for a new Edinburgh village could be realised. Design-led passive housing, open spaces for families and, heck, on particularly choppy days, why not throw a few wetsuitted city surfers catching some waves into that vision too?
As an adopted Leither, the rate of change in my local area is really quite depressing:
- It’s apparently going to take until 2037 to build a simple promenade from Cramond through to Portobello
- Tram works have blighted Leith Walk and disturbed the rest of the route down to Ocean Terminal, only for us to learn that the trams will only be travelling to St Andrews Square
- Leith Theatre has sat closed since 1998, weighed down by a lack of council imagination despite the best efforts of the Leith Theatre Trust.
- The local MP Mark Lazarowicz has proposed a Leith Museum be created at the frankly glorious Custom House on The Shore for certainly as long as I have lived but (despite a Labour Council, Labour Scottish Government and Labour UK Government being in place for most of these years) precious little has ever been achieved.
Amongst the best ways to transform this side of the city however is to build on the success of The Shore, the jewel in Edinburgh North’s rather tattered crown, and improve the waterfront either east or west. Platinum Point, the tolerable Ocean Terminal and the delightful old Granton Harbour already do westwards justice but to the east, well, let’s just say that you don’t have to be beside the seaside to buy a car.
Incentivising these numerous showrooms to move elsewhere, even just crossing the road to the largely unused southern side of the street, could reap dividends. Freeing up that land and using it sensibly would help to rebalance Edinburgh’s population and ease congestion thanks to proximity to the ring road and nearby reach to existing arterial bus routes (chiefly the 22 and the 26). If anyone has ever been to wonderful Malmo then they’ll know what can be achieved with enough creativity and energy in a space like Seafield Road’s.
It’s often easy to forget that Edinburgh is a coastal city and no wonder when a prime stretch with huge potential doesn’t even have a bus route up and down it. Leith was (not really) twinned with Rio de Janeiro in 2009 but let’s go the whole hog and bring our own version of Copacabana to town.