Edinburgh is extending its widely loathed tram network

A tram on Princes Street in 2014. Image: Ad Meskens/Wikimedia Commons.

Edinburgh City Council has given the go-ahead for the extension of the city’s tram line, despite the debacle the city experienced last time. At present the tram runs from the airport to the city centre, with some useful stops along the way at the busy business parks and for those living in the west of Edinburgh. All this is about to change with the extension through Leith to Newhaven, which was an original intention for the tram network, before it experienced the huge delays and expense for which it’s since become notorious.

The inquiry into why the construction of the first phase of the network went so badly has yet to be completed, but this much we know: the initial line cost twice as much as forecast, was almost cancelled by the Scottish Government due to the spiralling costs and came in a whopping five years late. Although all the right words are being spoken about learning the lessons of last time, at £208m for 2.8 miles of track, the extension is already 25 per cent over its original budget.

The new extension will essentially provide a link from the city centre to the shorefront in the north of the city and should be open to passengers in early 2023. Trams will run from York Place, the current terminus, north east through down Elm Row and Leith Walk before turning west over the Water of Leith river. From there the trams will run past the Scottish Government offices, towards the Ocean Terminal shopping centre and will finish up in Newhaven on the coast.

The tram, with the extension marked as a dotted line. Image: Edinburgh Trams.

One of the odd things about the trams is this: although the chaos of construction means they are almost universally unloved by most people who live in Edinburgh, the project is actually working a lot better than many expected. In 2017, the line made a pre-tax profit of £1.6m, six times greater than anticipated. Passenger numbers also rose 10 per cent in 2018 to 7.7 million. It may be that a substantial number like the trams, but are loathe to admit it.

Of course, one of the reasons the new tram extension has not been greeted enthusiastically in all quarters is the disruption the first line caused, particularly in Leith. After digging up Leith Walk and costing small businesses lots of customers, in April 2009 the authorities then had the unenviable task of having to tell people that it was all for nothing and that the line would end in the city centre after all. Now, of course, these residents are required to go through the rigmarole all over again.


Then there’s the fact that road closures around the busy Leith Walk will inevitably have an impact on commuters in the rest of the city as cars and buses are diverted. At least it seems that this time the project will not infuriate residents by digging up roads in a piecemeal, sporadic fashion. Instead each section will be dug up once, to minimise disruption.

On the plus side, the extension will mean it will be easy for people in the north of the city to escape gridlock and get to the centre in a low-carbon mode of transport. It should mean that, for anyone going to the airport without a car, it will make sense to take the tram all the way rather than messing around with buses or taxis. It could also be that the economies of scale mean that the tram system will become more effective as the line will go all the way from the airport, through the centre to the north of the Edinburgh, rather than the current truncated service on offer.

If the new line is a success it may increase house prices in Leith, which is already undergoing substantial gentrification. The area that was the heroin capital of Europe in the 1980s and immortalised by Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting in the 1990s gradually became more popular via the familiar method of cheap housing, riverside development and the opening of new bars and restaurants. The Ocean Terminal shopping centre and the Royal Yacht Britannia have both brought more visitors to the north of Edinburgh. Today Leith is a highly sought after area by people in their 20s and 30s.

In the long-term, it’s likely the new extension will be good for Edinburgh. It will boost transport to an area with low car ownership and which, despite gentrification, still has pockets of high deprivation. It will improve transport across the city, and may even also help alleviate pollution as more people commute by tram rather than by car or by bus.

But in order to get these benefits, the city may need to take a deep breathe and prepare for some short-term disruption. Surely it can't go worse than last time.

 
 
 
 

Segregated playgrounds are just the start: inequality is built into the fabric of our cities

Yet more luxury flats. Image: Getty.

Developers in London have come under scrutiny for segregating people who live in social or affordable housing from residents who pay market rates. Prominent cases have included children from social housing being blocked from using a playground in a new development, and “poor doors” providing separate entrances for social housing residents.

Of course, segregation has long been a reality in cities around the world. For example, gated communities have been documented in the US cities since the 1970s, while racially segregated urban areas existed in South Africa under apartheid. Research by myself and other academics has shown that urban spaces which divide and exclude society’s poorer or more vulnerable citizens are still expanding rapidly, even replacing public provision of facilities and services – such as parks and playgrounds – in cities around the world.

Gated developments in Gurgaon, India, have created a patchwork of privatised services; elite developments in Hanoi, Vietnam, offer rich residents cleaner air; and luxury condos in Toronto, Canada, displace local residents in favour of foreign investors. An extreme example is the Eko Atlantic project in Nigeria – a private city being built in Lagos, where the majority of other residents face extreme levels of deprivation and poverty.

A commodity, or a right?

Although these developments come with their own unique context and characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they effectively segregate city dwellers. By providing the sorts of facilities and services which would normally be run by public authorities, but reserving them exclusively for certain residents, such developments threaten the wider public’s access to green spaces, decent housing, playgrounds and even safe sewage systems.

Access to basic services, which was once considered to be the right of all citizens, is at risk of becoming a commodity. Privatisation may start with minor services such as the landscaping or upkeep of neighbourhoods: for example, the maintenance of some new-build estates in the UK are being left to developers in return for a service charge. This might seem insignificant, but it introduces an unregulated cost for the residents.

Privatising the provision of municipal services may be seen by some as a way for wealthier residents to enjoy a better standard of living – as in Hanoi. But in the worst cases, it puts in a paywall in front of fundamental services such as sewage disposal – as happened in Gurgaon. In other words, privatisation may start with insignificant services and expand to more fundamental ones, creating greater segregation and inequality in cities.


A divided city

My own research on branded housing projects in Turkey has highlighted the drastic consequences of the gradual expansion of exclusive services and facilities through segregated developments. These private housing developments – known for their extensive use of branding – have sprung up in Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past two decades, since the government began to favour a more neoliberal approach.

By 2014, there were more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul alone. They vary in scale from a single high-rise building to developments aiming to accommodate more than 20,000 residents. Today, this development type can be seen in every city in Turkey, from small towns to the largest metropolitan areas.

The branded housing projects are segregated by design, often featuring a single tower or an enclosing cluster of buildings, as well as walls and fences. They provide an extensive array of services and facilities exclusively for their residents, including parks, playgrounds, sports pitches, health clinics and landscaping.

Making the same services and facilities available within each project effectively prevents interaction between residents and people living outside of their development. What’s more, these projects often exist in neighbourhoods which lack publicly accessible open spaces such as parks and playgrounds.

This is a city-wide problem in Istanbul since the amount of publicly accessible green spaces in Istanbul is as low as 2.2 per cent of the total urban area. In London, 33 per cent of the city’s area is made up of parks and gardens open to the public – which shows the severity of the problem in Istanbul.

These branded housing projects do not feature any affordable units or social housing, so there are no opportunities for less privileged city-dwellers to enjoy vital facilities such as green spaces. This has knock-on effects on excluded residents’ mental and physical health, contributing to greater inequality in these respects, too.

Emerging alternatives

To prevent increasing inequality, exclusion and segregation in cities, fundamental urban services must be maintained or improved and kept in public ownership and made accessible for every city-dweller. There are emerging alternatives that show ways to do this and challenge privatisation policies.

For example, in some cities, local governments have “remunicipalised” key services, bringing them back into public ownership. A report by Dutch think-tank the Transnational Institute identified 235 cases where water supplies were remunicipalised across 37 countries between 2000 and 2015. The water remunicipalisation tracker keeps track of successful examples of remunicipalisation cases around the world, as well as ongoing campaigns.

It is vitally important to keep urban services public and reverse subtle forms or privatisation by focusing on delivering a decent standard of living for all residents. Local authorities need to be committed to this goal – but they must also receive adequate funds from local taxes and central governments. Only then, will quality services be available to all people living in cities.

The Conversation

Bilge Serin, Research Associate, University of Glasgow.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.