Sunday, 7 July 2013

Quartermile Edinburgh

Looming like some sort of deathstar, cobbled together as the wheels came off an entire industry, the Quartermile development of Edinburgh has contributed to a large chunk of the city centre being turned into a privatised ghost estate. Desperately struggling to form an identity of its own. Straddling the beaufitul meadows, it has turned its back on a town that grew into a UNESCO city. A city that, through the vision of 18th century mavericks, re-invented urban planning the world over. Foster + Partners claim to have carried out "investigations into the creation of sustainable, mixed-use urban communities" while working towards the current shambles. It is magazine talk and is so far off the mark as to indicate what is in fact a considerable failure of design. Quartermile is unsustainable, narrow-use and lacking in a community. The only way to save it from its faith lying solely in the passage of time would require a guile not found in many developers these days. The fantastic people who once occupied the British empire's largest voluntary hospital have relocated to little france via a diabolical PFI scheme running 34 million over budget. City officials need to make big decisions in such scenarios. They obviously haven't. A Wander through the buzzing food markets of Berlin or a pint in a Tokyo urban village quickly reminds one of the great possibilities inherent in a development this large done well. A pooling of talent and expertise rowing towards a better future. Instead, Quartermile leaves us wondering what could have been. The fake steel beams of the flagship office block leave a bitter taste. Saved from sure death by the energetic occupying of space by skyscanner. But what to do now? 

It is abundantly clear that the apartments are not selling. There is a slow but steady uptake of office space that shouldn't mask the complete lack of community and identity needed to stop it becoming another Fountainbridge. The hideous blue hoarding displays a woman sitting on a piece of ikea furniture. A lone record player hinting at a kind of existence so gray that you wonder if Quartermile has in fact hit the nail on the head with its choice of cladding. Instead of bitching though, I am writing this to try to at least suggest a way forward. In basic terms, there aren't enough people there. One shudders when imagining the promises made to the few brave businesses currently fighting the good fight. A bit of healthy competition will have people flocking there. The smallest hint of insight would have involved the festival. One million new people arriving every year to act like culture vultures for a month. The kind of person who decides to start a new business, buy a new apartment and consider Edinburgh as a place that might play host to a new life. The kind of person who would happily attend an obscure stand up gig in the unoccupied cafe and restaurant spaces. Standing on an unfinished screed adds an 'edge' don't you know. Customers. Cities are constantly selling themselves. Edinburgh does it better than most. Thats a whole group of dedicated workers constantly coming up with new ideas and ways to keep this place fresh. The capital of a country considering the bravest of all moves in 2014. I am guessing they weren't involved in the deign process. Instead, a group of underpaid and over skilled workers made decision after decision knowing its ultimate faith was being played out by a group of accountants in a board room in another time zone. Sell sell sell. But that is where we find ourselves. So, for the sake of the city, lets don a moneyman's hat and get out of the current malaise as best we can. 

Within the next few moths, Quartermile needs to make a public announcement offering 6 months free tenancy to potential business owners. Tollcross and Broughton street are just two examples of the vibrant new wave in Edinburgh. Entrepreneurs breaking new ground while trying to redefine urban life. They are out there. "If you build it they will come" kind of thing. It will involve a few headaches and probably get one or two people fired but in monetary terms makes sense. It is akin to a kind of shock therapy often spouted by the Chicago school. The kind of power point presentations that snap an investor out of his monday blues. This would create a small rush on the property. In turn attracting attention from potential residential customers. The current apartment pricing, a well known joke amongst inner city Edinbrights, would align itself sufficiently to friends and associates of the business owners keen to invest. Within 2 years the entire district would become self sufficient and just another cog. Kinda. What they cannot take back is their choice of materials. Their scrimping on diversity in design and general form making. Their complete lack of conviction while dancing around the protected buildings. They can not take back the landscaping. Or the anti-porous attitude towards Lauriston Place's meadows history. That stuff is lost until we find ourselves riding high once again on the chaotic wave of boom and bust. It looks like it might last 30 years at best. It could very well be gone by then. Imagine the havoc the Edinburgh winter will wreak on the flimsy finishing. Pretending things don't stain is fine in render land. Mother nature wont be so understanding. Until then, we need to make logical decisions based on occupancy levels because the city depends on people. Its a living breathing thing that suffers when it is wounded. Suffers from the trams fiasco. Suffers from stagnation. Suffers when another city can suddenly offer more. Welcome to the game baby.

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