Sunday, 22 January 2012

Geddes - planner, polymath or protester

This week it was reported that a campaign to raise funds for a statue of Patrick Geddes was launched, but is a statue the most fitting tribute to the man who shaped the evolution of society, planning and education with his novel approach? Perhaps an arts project demonstrating cooperation between community and artist-intellectuals, which describes the social and cultural legacy of Geddes in Edinburgh and gives opportunity for skills development, would be more fitting.

Born in Ballater in 1854 without the privilege of a wealthy background, Patrick Geddes was to become a major influence internationally for developing a new type of evolutionary education based on his idea 'by living we learn'. He is many things to many people, having influenced direction and development of so many subjects like botany, biology, sociology, education, arts, civics, housing, environmentalism, politics and of course town planning which he developed through his methods of surveying and analysis, bringing together social science and evolutionary science
Patrick Geddes with Bombay students (image source The Patrick Geddes Memorial Trust)

He studied and worked in Paris, Montpelier, Mexico, Palestine and Bombay, as well as in Dublin, Edinburgh, London and Dundee where he promoted civic activism, education, cultural revival and preservation of heritage and craft as a key to social improvements. 

Believing that whether poor or prosperous, life would be improved by evolving to a higher, healthier cultural affinity with an aesthetically enhanced environment, he applied his methods of survey and analysis to understand the important links between the physical, environmental and cultural aspects of each place. He understood that urban development depended on a grasp of environmental context and historical and cultural tradition and that civic action and evolutionary education was required to redress social justice in our

'largely Paleotechnic working-towns with their ominous contrasts of inferior conditions for the labouring majority, with comfort and luxury too uninspiring at best for the few' (Geddes, 1915).

A key advocate in the development of visual arts and traditional crafts, through his work with the Edinburgh Social Union he promoted the Celtic revival and commissioned artists to undertake works of art, murals, drinking fountains which would uplift the spirit and reinforce the public connection with their national traditions and culture. This development in arts and crafts traditions complemented his programmes for local residents to improve themselves and their local environment through participating in childcare, household management and gardening classes.

It was through his development of methodology for survey and analysis, which also recognised the importance of art, heritage and culture, that the 'conservative surgery' approach to development and urban renewal was developed and reinforced by those who followed him and had responsibility for managing development in the city

The importance of the connection between public health and environment is again being recognised as society struggles to find solutions to the current global environmental, social and economic problems.

Geddes is today often celebrated through exhibitions, plaques and books but his influence can also be seen today in the work of his followers in the communities which continue to evolve using his approach. Whether restoring gardens or holding conferences, his influence is felt today not by gazing on pictures or statues of him but through discovery of the vast body of international work which he influenced. The continued activism of  citizens who carry on his work whether reviving a centre for Learning and Conservation or campaigning internationally on issues of environment, peace and social justice is a lasting tribute to him.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Are you engaged yet?

Back in 2005 Scottish Government endorsed the National Standards of Community Consultation this, along with new rules in Planning to for pre-application consultation, was intended to ensure fairness in the delivery and planning of services but is it being used?

Last week Edinburgh Council held a Charrette (the new jargon for stakeholder workshop) to engage with community and council about how to improve the Royal Mile.

These issues and many other urgent issues (lack of affordable and family housing, access to public land and parks, absence of community space closed off roads, management of city centre events, enforcement of planning and licencing policies, temporary uses for gapsites and empty property) have all been raised and discussed at previous charrettes and focus groups but to date there has been little real action taken.

Whilst the previous charrette led to a Area Development Framework (ADF) to guide action and development (which includes a proposal to 'develop the Royal Mile Project' as a big project for community engagement and improvements the area)  
This ADF framework is still out to formal consultation until 23rd Jan!

The existing consultation process is not meaningful, democratic or productive so it was no surprise then that a number of residents, SOOT supporters and the local Community Council decided to boycott the event 

Although some who attended claim that the event was a success the outcomes dont appear to be anything very inspired.
The Neighbourhood team will undertake a 'spring clean' to improve the appearance of particular hotspots (an annual event has been happening since they were established) and a new Royal Mile manager will be recruited to manage day to day management (surely the existing City Centre Town Centre Coordinator and Neighbourhood Managers jobs already cover this although clearly not being very effective at implementing improvements)

Although the charette and planning teams state support for the reuse of vacant property and use of rent controls to encourage better mix of shops, the councils own economic development and property teams are continuing to sell off assets for demolition, increase rents to long established local shops and encourage any tenant which will generate higher rents!

It would seem that others in the city are also feel that councils Charrettes and consultation are no more than a tick box exercise to distract from the bigger issues which people DO want an opportunity to comment on (like privatisation of services). Local Blogger Peter Matthews has also decided NOT to engage in the most recent consultation exercise for the Local Plan and development of the Leith Docks.

Maybe its time for communities to take control of the consultation process. Networks of common cause and concern are already gathering to see how Councillors and others can be held to account regarding how the whole city moves forward.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Activists call for Holyrood to intervene in capital row

Concerns about Edinburgh's World Heritage Status were raised by heritage bodies in the city when yesterday it was reported that the (new or revived) Caltongate scheme would require to go before the UN World Heritage committee.
The Scottish Government through Historic Scotland are required to protect World Heritage Sites and  therefore have a responsibility to ensure any revived development for the Waverley Valley takes due consideration of the recommendations made following UNESCO's visit in 2009.
The Scottish Government also have a responsibility to ensure Local government complies with legislation and policy and that best value is achieved for communities through public asset management. Will any of our representatives at Holyrood take up the challenge and question Edinburgh Council about so called benefits of flogging off much needed council housing on the cheep to developers who may demolish them with no guarantee of development?

Meanwhile Edinburgh Council provide 24hr security to 'protect' the gapsite

Today this article was published in the Glasgow Herald
by Brian Donally

"Members of the Canongate Community Forum, the area where the project is located, said Edinburgh City Council was wrong to approve the sale of land and buildings for £3.4M last month without further consultation.
Now the group plans to lobby Holyrood in an effort to prevent the sale. It includes nine flats for a total of £900,000, which the campaigners say is well below the normal market price.
One-bedroom flats in the area regularly fetch £150,000.
The sale will make way for a massive development in the medieval Old Town that will include a five-star hotel with 211 bedrooms, an 18,000sq ft conference centre, offices, shops, cafes and 165 new homes.
Resident and campaigner Julie Logan said there was strong opposition to demolishing a number of buildings at the Canongate to allow the develoment to go ahead.
She said: "The sale of these assets was approved just before Christmas, at a time when all of the interested groups did not have the time to put together formal objections.
"The issue is it was agreed to sell off the land without enough consultation or without providing any evidence this delivers best value in any kind of way for Edinburgh.
"There are groups who are deeply concerned about the proposals to demolish the buildings. We saw no need to rush this through. The flats have been empty for two years now and would need some work done, but they are not in great disrepair.
"The Scottish Government has got to play a role to ensure the best value is achieved."
The concern over the agreement of the sale of the assets to developers Artisan Real Estate Investors comes after The Herald revealed yesterday the entire project is to be scrutinised by Unesco after fresh fears it could jeopardise the city's World Heritage Site status.
Similar plans for the 640,000sq ft site previously prompted a UN mission to the capital that ended with Unesco telling then developers Mountgrange to redraw its plans or risk damaging the critical component of the accolade, the area's "outstanding universal value".
Director of heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association said the council was "rushing this (sale) through at a very bad time to sell".
Artisan Real Estate Investors says it comprises a "powerful consortium of South African investors which is set to breathe new life into a project that has been dormant for more than a decade".
When first mooted, it was claimed the project could create 2000 jobs.
Artisan has taken over the project two years after the previous developer Mountgrange folded. Dave Anderson, head of city development, said the sale would help lead to more affordable housing for the area.
He said: "The capital receipt will be credited to the Housing Revenue Account and re-invested in the provision of affordable homes.
"In addition to the capital receipt, Artisan will transfer, free of value, a plot of land earmarked for the majority of the affordable housing on the consented scheme directly to the council. This plot of land has planning consent for 36 affordable housing units and will count towards the overall affordable housing requirement of the consented scheme.
"The commencement of the project has the potential to be a catalyst for Edinburgh's commercial property market and should encourage further overseas investors. The completed development will deliver much needed new commercial space to the city including offices, retail units and a five-star hotel."
Edinburgh Council security checking the gap site and Canongate Venture yesterday