Things are looking up for Leith Walk, it seems. The Scottish Government has added extra cash to the kitty which means a total of coming on for £9 million is to be spent on improving the most interesting street in the city. But the story is surely not finished.
More money has got to be good news and it is a useful reminder that community action can pay dividends. Greener Leith ‘s blog traces the winding route through community meetings and public consultations that led to this point. Combined forces kept up the pressure, helping to top up the public funding available for repairing and upgrading the street. (You know the story: damage left by abortive tram works, street clutter, general decline, those ugly bollards….).
Money will now be spent on making Leith Walk safer and more attractive for cyclists and pedestrians, which must make it better for business too.
But there’s still room for bolder vision and that does mean continuing to press our elected representatives. Must admit, the heart sinks when Scottish Government transport minister Keith Brown talks of making Leith Walk ‘an examplar commuter corridor.’
No, no, no. Although I dislike the retail jargon that talks of ‘destination neighbourhoods’ it is essential to allow Leith Walk to be a place people want to go to. Not just through. This is a street where people stop and chat and shop and play and eat and drink and sometimes make music too. To say nothing (though lots of people have said plenty) about the very bold street art project launched by Leith Late’s Morvern Cunningham.
This is a street with character and sense of identity. When it comes to commerce, this must be a prime place for the pedestrian pound. Edinburgh retailers have been stubbornly slow to see the benefits of pedestrianisation. Check Perth and Glasgow as examples of clever use of public space encouraging people to park their cars and wander, lingering in newly expanded walkable streets and squares: spending time and money in pavement cafes and browsing in shops without that where’s-the-traffic-warden crick in the neck. Now, take a look at Pedestrian Pound an interesting response to a report commissioned by the charity Living Streets. It is notoriously difficult to prove cause and effect but it is cheering to see a passionate argument. If nothing else, there are signs that improving public spaces coincides with increasing prosperity in town centres.
The pedestrian pound – key findings [see the full report here]
- Research shows that making places better for walking can boost footfall and trading by up to 40%
- Good urban design can raise retail rents by up to 20%
- International and UK studies have shown that pedestrians spend more than people arriving by car. Comparisons of spending by transport mode in Canada and New Zealand revealed that pedestrians spent up to six-times more than people arriving by car. In London town centres in 2011, walkers spent £147 more per month than those travelling by car
- Retailers often overate the importance of the car – a study Graz, Austria, subsequently repeated in Bristol found that retailers overestimated the number of customers arriving by car by almost 100%
- Landowners and retailers are willing to pay to improve the streetscape in order to attract tenants and customers.
Plenty of food for thought, then. While we should applaud the Scottish Government for contributing that extra money for Leith Walk let’s keep badgering both councillors and MSPs to be bolder with their city visions. Who knows, we might yet get a covered food market in Leith Walk.