Cities are moulded by intricate networks of historic, social, economic and technological inter-relationships. Successful places are those which adapt positively and effectively to meet new challenges. So proposed interventions, however well intentioned, must fully examine, analyse, understand and build positively on this complexity, rather than being isolated responses to pressure from one particular interest group or issue. Edinburgh has a very distinctive character and it is rare that undigested schemes, uncritically imposed from elsewhere, can produce satisfactory results.
Broughton Street is a typical example of a historic highway. Originally the main street of Broughton village outside Edinburgh’s walls, from the 12th century it was also part of the ‘Wester Road’, until Leith Walk was built in 1650, through Bonnington to Leith.
As Edinburgh spread the street was absorbed into the expanding city, reinforcing its role as a community hub for the surrounding area with housing, retailing, pubs and cafés, and at one time also with sixteen religious institutions directly on the street or close by. Later public transport, first as trams and then buses, was routed through it. Many of the shops were of a quality which draw customers from beyond the immediate vicinity. As with most inner-city residential areas, it had experienced a period of decay but has now come back strongly.
Today, it plays multiple roles – as a highway, as a public transport corridor, as a pedestrian place for shopping and leisure, as a residential street, and above all as a high-quality community high street for local residents and those beyond, which contrasted with and complemented the chain stores and larger-scale retail offering of the adjacent city centre, in the same manner as Stockbridge or William Street catered for their localities. Continue reading