Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations’ Council (EVOC) sits down with Lord Provost, Frank Ross to discuss the overarching vision for the city of Edinburgh.
In 2016, a conversation was sparked within the city of Edinburgh about what a vision for 2050 would look like, what are the city’s priorities and what kind of place should it be. Explaining the case for the Edinburgh 2050 City Vision, Frank Ross, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, said:
“Edinburgh is a tremendously successful city on so many different levels, outside London we are the most economically successful city bar none. But we still have this issue where 20% of our population are still in poverty.”
An Over-Arching Vision
He continued: “Edinburgh as a city has never had an overarching vision, about what Edinburgh’s citizens want their city to be.”
Although everyone, even people who don’t live in Edinburgh but may work or have family here, is welcome to have their say – the Lord Provost explains that the city vision depends on being informed by younger generations.
“It is aimed at the 5 to 35 year olds who will be running every aspect of the city, it will be their future and their families that are living here. We need to understand what the ambition is.”
Continuing, he explained that understanding citizens’ priorities and creating a vision would help to inform how future investment can best be spent. “Over the next five to ten years, we are going to be making a significant investment in this city. We’ve just won a £1.2 billon city region deal, with the vast majority of this to be invested in the city.”
The vision itself will be based on opinions and data collected from respondents by Marketing Edinburgh. An initial market test of a few thousand people revealed that the emerging themes were that people wanted their city to be: fair, connected, greener and affordable.
Participation is Key
However, the Lord Provost pointed out that this was only a small sample and that the success of making sure the vision fits with what people actually think will depend on participation.
He said: “If we don’t get a significant number of citizens engaged with this, it is pretty meaningless as a vision and it is key that we get young people across the whole spectrum of society to contribute. I would love to get 250,000 people contributing, that’s my target and I am going to do everything I can to get that done.”
The Purpose of the Vision
When it becomes clear what Edinburgh’s own view is of what its future should like, the 2050 vision will provide the city’s leaders with a ‘guiding light’ when taking decisions.
The Lord Provost continued: “The vision should give us a moral compass about what it is that we want our city to be. When I’m making a decision, is that what the city wants? The whole point of having the vision is to check decisions against a big bright light in the sky and say if that’s not compatible, I’ll need to look at it again. We’ve made decisions too myopically.
“While we are working away to address social inclusion issues now, we are putting a vision up there to stop the equivalent happening again.”
Business is Booming
It is hoped that the 2050 City Vision will provide the city’s businesses and organisations with a solid foundation upon which to build their strategies to meet the needs of the city’s residents.
Data collected from people’s responses will be anonymised and uploaded to an open resource, which businesses can access. The Lord Provost hopes that this sharing of information will create a joined up approach to putting the city vision into motion.
He said: “As a council, we will hold every strategy and policy up against that vision and ask is it consistent? I would expect most organisations to do the same, if you operate within Edinburgh and you have data about what the citizens of Edinburgh want, to ignore that would be crazy.”
It would seem that some of Edinburgh’s organisations are fully on board, as £450,000 to fund the project has been raised by the Council privately, invested by businesses who believe that they can benefit from an understanding of what the city wants.
The role of volunteering both for the Third Sector and for Edinburgh’s citizens is a very important one. Over 600,000 hours are donated every week and 159,000 people in Edinburgh regularly volunteer. Speaking about how active citizenship and volunteering will play a role in the 2050 City Vision, he said:
“Edinburgh is phenomenal for volunteering and volunteering will have its place in delivering whatever the vision turns out to be. We are talking about being integrated, about being a happier society, about being encouraging, inclusive and aspirational – these are things which I think volunteering can assist.
“What I want to do is to make sure all these people who volunteer engage because it is their ethos and their beliefs that I want to see coming through.”
The Bottom Line
The Council is confident that a city vision for Edinburgh can change the way that decision making is made, with mass participation in the consultation being the key factor.
“This has got real power. If this works properly, instead of me as a politician standing in front the electorate saying ‘this is what I believe’ and you as an electorate saying ‘I don’t actually agree with you but I will choose the least worst’ or don’t vote – the electorate can say ‘this is what I believe in, which one of you can deliver this for me?’
“This is seismic, and if we could get to that stage it would be true local democracy where the citizens are setting the agenda.”
With a view over Princes Street from the windows of the impressive Provost suite within the City Chambers, the conversation continued around the importance of the Third Sector in bringing voices seldom heard into the discussion.
How can I get Involved?
You can share your vision at https://www.edinburgh2050.com/ and encourage others to get involved.
Follow 2050 Edinburgh City Vision with #Edinburgh2050 on Twitter.