The George Street and First New Town (GNT) project forms part of Edinburgh’s City Centre Transformation. Tetra Tech drew up a masterplan and design of a vibrant street environment that emphasises active travel and accessibility for non-motor users. At the same time, it respects the centre’s heritage while offering lucrative economic advantages.
Edinburgh thrives on its diverse city centre population of 25,000. Its local communities bring vibrancy, character, and identity to the city. But over time, concerns had sprung from civic streets and spaces becoming more and more defined by commercial activity.
Indeed, the GNT is a complex environment of unique Georgian design, locked by its own UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The capital street within a capital city is a melting pot of polarised views and expectations from many user groups. Edinburgh City Council undoubtedly needed a design prioritising strong placemaking.
Our design consequently aimed to create a world-class space that both respects and enhances the current site. A co-design ethos steered us to consult widely with local community, businesses, and residents on concept designs prior to development.
Engagement events, including exhibitions, workshops, design meetings, and business surveys fed into this process. The design team used videos taken from multiple users’ perspective to form early consultation information that all users could appreciate and relate to.
Ultimately, feedback highlighted the following features as central to our design:
- Spaces where people can sit, rest, relax and enjoy the street
- Plazas that reinforce views of key historic building for the first time in decades, provide attractive spaces, and support appropriately sized events
- Widened pedestrian areas to enhance accessibility and movement flow while incorporating segregated space for cyclists
- Reallocated road space reducing vehicle impact and prioritsing bus and vehicle access for the most vulnerable
- Removal of central parking areas to open up street traversal and promote pedestrian access to local business.
- New urban greenery that enhances comfort
Through consideration of future economy trends and their impacts, a flexible design that allows for adaptable delivery methods that reduce reliance on heavy goods vehicles
In the long-term, the redesigned GNT offers visitors and residents renewed pride, community, and place, with a high-quality and adaptable design that will grow with the changing future needs of businesses, residents, and visitors, without bias to any one political group or body.
All spaces cater equally to everyone, including even the mobility-impaired and electric vehicle users. The design promotes a predominately car-free centre whilst retaining an animated and safe day-and-night cycle.
Under the Council’s wider city transformation plans, the centre advances low carbon and net zero strategies while supporting UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 in providing universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces.
Great design will create an environment that attracts business and supports the use of the area for all users. The GNT is a success because of its proportionate yet inclusive design approach and its adaptable nature promotes the schemes core design principles without bias to any one political group or body.