Over the last six months or so, a group of postgraduate students from Edinburgh University have been engaged in a study of Wester Hailes – its past, present and the potential for future growth and development – as part of a joint urban geography and design programme. This has now borne fruit in the form of a book which has collected together a series of carefully researched and extremely interesting essays on the subject.
Entitled “Gamma/Jaamaa: Urban Fragments: Casablanca/Edinburgh” the book explores the theme of marginality in relation to these two cities. In the case of Edinburgh, a considerable part of the focus is on Wester Hailes, drawing on the Sentinel archive as a major information resource. The essays range from historical studies into the planning and building of the estate and the consequent problems that had to be faced, analyses of how aspects of the present day community are functioning, through to proposals for future development and improvement.
The flawed process that led to the erection of poorly constructed and soulless high rise blocks (maladministration on a monumental scale – literally) and the do-it-yourself response of early residents to the almost total lack of facilities are recounted in clear, concise detail. The degree to which creativity and local cultural initiatives have flourished on the edge of the UK’s premier “festival city” and the unutilised potential of this peripheral, but actually very well connected, location are teased out and examined.
Gamma/Jaamaa may be an academic publication but it is an altogether unstuffy and stimulating take on some of the key elements of Wester Hailes as a place and a community, from its inception to where it stands now – and where it might go. It certainly repays careful reading and we hope to publish some individual pieces by the students involved on this blog in the coming weeks.