Someone’s day started badly this morning. Outside my flat on the street was the footprint of a trainer in dog shite, the thinnest of a progression from the corner where the offending pile sat.
As the footprints fade on the way up Leith Walk they are replaced by discarded receipts and an empty packet of Pannini football cards thrown on the ground by someone who had ripped open their purchase from one of the newsagents on the east side. The partially revamped street is flanked by jeeps and Mercedes in the customer parking outside the shops, whilst the road surface is starting to come apart again under the weight of the traffic. The landmark investment hailed by the Government and the Labour-led council is running slowly, the promised bike lanes are nowhere to be seen and people scrum on the corners waiting to cross the road.
Further up still the window of Harburn Hobbies has a model train display of the highlands and the classier cafes and tiny restaurants of Haddington Place seem at odds with the Greggs packets and bins littering the street. The maps show the top of Leith Walk as being a well organised roundabout, but in fact it is a loosely segregated square fed by four different roads. In other places such a huge expanse in a city centre might be a public square, but in Edinburgh people are shepherded in to pens to cross the road as cars take the corners at forty.
Further up the hill the situation is identical. Crossing the street can take five minutes depending on which of the four main roads pouring into the area has priority. You can smell the fumes hanging in the air in rush hour and Leith Street, the main route for people crossing to the Bridges or Princes Street, does not even have a complete pavement up one side. Instead it is easier to cut through the big John Lewis, where small men in ill-fitting grey suits wait for people to buy the Nespresso machines they stand watch over. Sometimes, when the air is bad, the ventilation system of the St James’ centre pulls in the smell of diesel fumes from the street outside. The world heritage site most people struggle through every day looks blackened and cracked in the November grey.
North Bridge offers a prime view of Arthur’s Seat overlapping with the Crags like the layers of a theatre set before it dives into the canyon between the Scotsman hotel and the equally ornate Pizza Express. In the stair entrance next to one of the tartan and whisky tourist shops a figure lies in a foetal squat, his unconscious face hidden by a hoody. Beyond Hunter Square another Scotland shop pumps out bagpipe hits as people cluster around the bus stop and cyclists nervously eye the taxis on their tail. The regeneration project of an Ibis hotel, Sainsbury’s and Costa Coffee have already been tagged.
On the far side of Old College a group of first year students wearing 2014 leavers hoodies from English private schools look uneasily at the Gaelic scrawled on the walls and pavement. ‘Our language’ it says. Ironically, Edinburgh has just finished covering its entire campus in tokenistic Gaelic signage for the purposes of overseas students. It is one of the few places in Edinburgh where you really can see the language in public view. For Edinburgh though, the dismal urbanism is a bigger issue than what language you complain about the dog shite in.