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Academic lambasts Edinburgh’s ‘urban malaise’

February 18 2013

Academic lambasts Edinburgh’s ‘urban malaise’
A University of Edinburgh professor has raised hackles in his adopted city after airing some embarrassing home truths in US based Foreign Policy magazine.

Professor Richard Williams used the platform to paint an alternative view of the capital starting with the twin bugbears which have bedeviled Edinburgh’s recent history; the ‘thrift stores and shabby street frontage’ of Princes Street, (where close to a third of units lie vacant) and a botched $1.5bn tram scheme which is three years late and been reduced in scope to merely duplicating existing bus routes to the airport.

The critical piece went on to cite the city as playing host to ‘some of Europe’s shoddiest attempts at urban regeneration’, notably Edinburgh Waterfront, a stalled bid to transform the former dock area which he described as a ‘dystopian wasteland of vacant lots worthy of a J.G. Ballard novel.’

Williams wrote: “The waterfront reaches its peak of despair at Granton Harbour where a handful of shoddy buildings emerge from a giant mud pool, the inadvertent result of stalled construction. Wrecked bicycles and shopping carts litter the scene. So poor are these buildings, they’re already – after five years – falling down.”

Commenting on the backdrop to these failures Williams noted: “Edinburgh suffers a weird urban malaise. Rather than a city whose time has come, it can feel more like Venice, a once-great city now in abject decline. If the city is a glimpse of Scotland’s future as an independent – or somewhat more independent – nation, Scots may have some cause for alarm.

“Leaving the airport, you do wonder whether the city isn’t actually reverting to its 18th century condition. The spectacularly pot-holed roads, the decay of buildings in the central area, and the remarkable absence of new construction suggest the city council wishes to return to the era of Hume and Stevenson.”

Subsequent to publication Williams defended his views on Twitter, albeit noting that ‘FP’s edit lost some nuances’.
The dismal quality of new build housing in Edinburgh has come under fire
The dismal quality of new build housing in Edinburgh has come under fire
Williams described Granton as a collection of 'shoddy buildings emerging from a giant mud pool'
Williams described Granton as a collection of 'shoddy buildings emerging from a giant mud pool'


#1 Posted by Brian on 18 Feb 2013 at 16:40 PM
I said years ago Edinburgh is looking more like Blackpool O the North! its horrendous .The city looked better in 80s.
#2 Posted by David on 19 Feb 2013 at 11:25 AM
Granton Harbour shocked me when I first visited. I felt it should be compared directly to Glasgow Harbour, and the difference in quality of architecture and space between the two is truly vast. It made me actually feel proud of Glasgow Harbour, which says something!

So who was to blame?...planners for not being tough enough?...politicians for getting in the way?...developers for being too greedy?...architects for not being good enough for the job?...the global recession?...probably all of the above, with everyone hiding behind the 'global recession' excuse.

Such ashame that this, and the other disaster stories mentioned in the article had to be, and on such a scale. Sadly it's all too true of most development in this country.

More people like 'Williams' (UR - does he not have a full name?) saying it like it is the better!
#3 Posted by wonky on 19 Feb 2013 at 12:07 PM
The problem's highlighted in Edinburgh could easily be applied to Glasgow Harbour, Cardiff Bay, Salford Quay, London Docklands etc...the list is fairly endless and reflects the paucity of planning, design quality and vision UK wide. When you compare modern projects in Scandinavian nations or Holland to Granton etc then the contrast in quality is frightening. What is so very wrong with British culture that we cannot plan for the long term and why we condemn everything we do to fruitless mediocrity?
I know this is unfashionable in today's pro-monetarist culture but maybe our craven worship of Capital has led to: a problem with totalitarian privatization, endemic short-termism it facilitates and its all-embracing promotion of trashy two-bit third rate productivity- might that be a possibility?
Lindsay Buchan
#4 Posted by Lindsay Buchan on 19 Feb 2013 at 12:52 PM
Sadly Mr.Williams has a point (or two......)
Girvine Welsh
#5 Posted by Girvine Welsh on 19 Feb 2013 at 12:56 PM
Shock , horror : Edinburgh is subject to the same macro-economic pressures as everywhere else in the UK (apart from Aberdeen)!

I don't see how the finger of blame can be pointed at the independence campaign, in fact quite the opposite. Where has this guy been hiding since 2008 anyway? And where exactly are all the new buildings faliing down ?
Does he have nothing positive to say (e.g. some developments in the old / new towns world heritage site / Leith may merit a mention) ?
#6 Posted by Egbert on 19 Feb 2013 at 13:39 PM
Wonky is bang on the money with her/his assessment. Hopefully (as Owen Hatherley stated his Urban Trawl on Edinburgh) this might shame the council into seizing back the initiative and standing up to the developers' mediocrity.
#7 Posted by Egbert on 19 Feb 2013 at 13:46 PM
Also, like #5 I'd reached the opposite conclusion to Prof. Williams re. independence - that it would in fact allow Scotland to make a decisive break from the current dismal and clearly failing/failed British private sector-led development model and rediscover its fine, public and civic urban tradition. Ambitions just need to be raised, particularly at a local authority level - we can and should demand better.
#8 Posted by David on 19 Feb 2013 at 16:29 PM
I'm reminded that there is a small portion of Granton Harbour that is the exception to the mediocracy of the rest, designed I think by Elder & Cannon and Reiach & Hall. I wonder what were the reasons why it was successful and the rest of the garbage is, garbage?

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