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August 26, 2009

Community aiming to reclaim the streets

Near Edinburgh’s busy University district is a small area of local historic significance, but which now consists of a large traffic island and car-filled streets on either side.  Two years ago, as part of the Six Cities Design Festival, a temporary transformation of the area saw it being reclaimed as a space for local people to enjoy. The West Crosscauseway Association are working with architects and the wider community on a long term plan for the design and use of ‘The Causey’

Causey2 – Transforming a Place

WCCA is a small voluntary community organisation, based in Edinburgh and set up in February 2007 to respond successfully to a competitive bid for funding from The Lighthouse to participate in the Six Cities Design Festival 2007.

In two months we identified the community’s ideas for this temporary Festival event and implemented The Causey, a project that physically transformed an existing car-dominated urban space into a vibrant place for people. We engaged with local people and what is currently a non-descript traffic island became an elegant and inspiring “tropical island” for 5 days in May 2007. We also secured the necessary additional funding, recruited 40 volunteers to effect the transformation; recorded local people’s reminiscences; surprised and delighted local people, drawing their attention to the historic significance of this place and its surrounding buildings; and aroused their support for a permanent transformation. This work can be seen on our website

Why this issue is important

The streets and spaces in our cities are important places where the life of the community is played out in public.

As car ownership has grown exponentially in the last 50 years, the effect of traffic has increasingly dominated our streets and city spaces, making them hostile for people to use.

It is important to redress the balance in favour of people to improve the quality of life and the long term health and wellbeing of the community.

The difference our project will make

Causey2 seeks to engage local people in a project that has both a tangible output and outcomes with a lasting benefit for the local community.

The local community will reclaim this historic, now car-dominated, urban space and transform it into a vibrant place for people  that is a sustainable, striking asset for the city.

In the process they will be empowered to say how the space can be used and designed for the community’s health, well-being and sustainability.

It is not widely understood that the public realm is increasingly dominated by measures that favour traffic over people. Causey 2 seeks to fill this gap by raising awareness, reconnecting local people with their streets, encouraging neighbourliness and communality, and making this urban space a place of social inter-action rather than a place for traffic, and encouraging a more sustainable way of living.

Causey 2 will strengthen existing community engagement practice by seeking ways in which the community can actually connect directly with the issues that confront them and generate proposals that will resolve them.

This grass roots action offers a radical approach to how local people can influence and take responsibility for their local environment.

We see the combination of local people working with professionals, sometimes in new roles, as a dynamic, valuable and mutually beneficial relationship. We have also learned from the experience of The Causey that, in itself, people working together, sharing ideas and hopes and learning new skills builds a sense of a stronger community.

WCCA is a pro-active grassroots initiative which has been enterprising in fundraising successfully for its activities to date, has already demonstrated an actual transformation through The Causey and has effectively, in a planned and professional way, begun to engage the local community in recognising the challenges and learning the skills required to achieve an environment that will sustain its well-being. WCCA is raising the bar in terms of real community engagement for the community and for local government.

Securing the funding requested for these key stages of the process, to bring together the community’s aspirations for this place into a costed design proposal, will underline for local people and for local government officers the value of a future local government planning strategy that is a genuinely meaningful partnership and does not rely on a conventional top-down process that disregards the needs of people and prioritises the needs of traffic.

Causey 2 encourages local people to take responsibility for their streets through direct involvement rather than complaint after the event and to work together with local government in respect of its future use and management.

Documenting and communicating the Causey 2 process, as an exemplar or demonstration project, will make it available to other grassroots community groups who may wish to transform their environment.

Causey 2 raises these issues with local policy makers in order to influence policy and to implement a strategy for genuine grassroots community engagement.


Since early 2008 we have been working on Causey2 – the permanent transformation of the space into a place for people.

We have been carrying out the project’s objectives:
• To continue with our aspiration to embed the project in the community and develop a model of good practice in community engagement.
• To work with Arcade Architects in the delivery of professionally led Ideas Workshops  involving targeted groups of local people to gather the community’s ideas for how the space could be used;
• To communicate what we are doing, and exhibit our work and aspirations online and within the community;
• To fundraise successfully for these activities; 
• To make useful links, and increase credibility with the City of Edinburgh Council, the local Community Council, local community associations, voluntary groups and organisations such as Living Streets.

Key priorities are: 
• developing social innovation that enables local people to be pro-active in initiating physical change in their community rather than responding negatively to town planning that ignores their needs;
• encouraging ” hard to reach” and younger people to participate in existing community groups;
• developing a community based response to issues of sustainability.

The West Crosscauseway Association      August 2009