Ray Perman takes a critical look at Leith Walk in this guest blog. With imagination and a little money it could become the most elegant and cosmopolitan street in Edinburgh. [Many local people agree, see the excellent comments at the end of the post]
There are a lot of reasons for despairing at the dysfunctional political leadership of City of Edinburgh Council, but the degradation of Leith Walk surely comes top of the list.
This wide and noble street was conceived as an elegant boulevard connecting the newly built Georgian New Town of Edinburgh with the prosperous and bustling burgh of Leith. William Stark, the 18th century architect and planner, commented on the “fine double row of elms” extending for 200 yards down the Walk. His colleague, William Playfair, who designed Leopold Place, just off the Walk on London Road, spoke of “the happy union of foliage and building.”
Despite two centuries of piecemeal development, there are still some fine buildings along the Walk, but the council has turned it into an urban clearway, so there is no incentive to stop and look. An excess number of garish yellow keep left signs are now the main feature of the street. What are they for? Does the council seriously expect that motorists would drive down the wrong side of the dual carriageway if they weren’t reminded every 25 yards?
The Walk is wide enough to have a broad central reservation with shrubs and trees – like the one which runs along the broader part of East Claremont Street. But what do we have instead? The cheapest, nastiest black rubber blocks, bolted together. If they weren’t ugly enough, they are flanked by unnecessary white lines, hatched on the road. For what? To deter motorists from parking in the middle of the road?
The whole effect is ghastly, but just think what Leith Walk could become. With imagination and a little money, it could again be an elegant thoroughfare with broad pavements, street cafés, trees and shrubs. It is the most multicultural street in Edinburgh and could also be the most cosmopolitan.
The Walk had to put up with two years of disruption while the street was torn up for the trams which – thanks to the council’s incompetence – will now probably never traverse it. It deserves better than the fate the council has decreed for it.