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By May East

People-centred architect and urban designer Daisy Narayanan and team are leading the transition to George Street

Edinburgh has set an ambitious target to become a net zero city by 2030. This means that by 2030, the city will remove the same amount of greenhouse gases that it releases into the air. The iconic George Street is set to play a significant part in enacting this strategy. Alongside the active travel plans, trees will be planted for the first time. Which species will be planted and why does it matter?

Historical background

In 1767, when architect James Craig first proposed the New Town plan, George Street was known simply as 'the principal street.' It was intentionally designed to serve as a residential area for those who could afford to escape the over-populated Old Town, featuring terraces of townhouses of classical proportions. The New Town eventually became the backdrop for the Scottish Enlightenment during the 18th century, characterised by its intellectual clubs, debating societies, grand balls, and social assemblies.

During the Victorian era, homes gave way to shops, banks, small department stores, and hotels. While George Street's architectural character remains predominantly Victorian in the 21st century, the functions of many of these commercial buildings have transformed into restaurants, cafes, bars, and upscale clothing boutiques.

On the 21st century, the functions of many of George Street commercial buildings have transformed into restaurants, cafes and bars @InannaGibsone

21st Century George Street

George Street is in the process of being re-designed with an active travel and nature positive approach. To this end, a European styled cycle street will be created, car parking removed,  buses will be rerouted to adjacent ‘cross streets’ and any permitted vehicles will be treated as ‘guests’, with limited traffic access between 10am and 7pm.

The cycle street will incorporate rain gardens, granite planters and benches alongside it providing landscaped rest areas and city blocks will also have clutter-free, central spaces providing uninhibited views of unique new town buildings such as the Assembly Rooms. A broad extended pedestrian pavement on either side of the new-look cycling street will provide a more relaxed pedestrian experience and will allow for patio seating alongside cafes and restaurants.

The mastermind behind these changes is Daisy Narayanan, Head of Placemaking and Mobility, where she leads on delivering a city-wide integrated approach to transport and placemaking. Daisy is trained as an architect and urban designer, brings her heart to what she does and over the last decade, her work has focussed on sustainable transport and climate action.

Central to this re-design of George Street is the introduction of landscaped rain gardens and trees to enhance the street’s biodiversity, provide shade, reduce its’ urban heat island effect, and contribute to the city’s One Million Tree City pledge. These trees will be planted within the limitations imposed by the historical character of the UNESCO World Heritage area.

George Street represents one of the finest examples of ‘Rus in Urbe’ in Europe – the countryside in the city –with landscaping plans preserving the vistas of the street’s unique architecture, monuments and axial alignment with the planned gardens of Charlotte and St Andrew Squares.

Sycamore, Holly and Silver Birch as the top three tree species found in Edinburgh. Would George Street trees follow the trend?

The Value of Urban Trees

In 2016, a study carried out by Forest Research demonstrated the value that urban trees provide to all those who live, work in or visit Edinburgh. Key findings of the study included:

  • Edinburgh has over 712,000 trees, resulting in an average urban tree density of 62 trees per hectare;

  • Edinburgh has 17% urban tree cover, equal to an area of 1,950 ha;

  • Trees were primarily located in residential land, parks, and on institutional land;

  • The urban forest includes 50 tree and shrub species, recorded across 8 land use categories, with Sycamore, Holly and Silver Birch as the top three tree species.

A ground-penetrating radar survey is currently underway to reveal what is under George Street in terms of basements and major utilities. The results will pave the way to determine where the trees will be planted.

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To read the original article, click here.

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