I got very excited this week at the site of a bulldozer. It was taking a bite out of Shrubhill House, a derelict office building on Leith Walk about a block from my home in Edinburgh. I’ve only lived next to this building for the past year or so but I remember it from when I first moved to Edinburgh in 2002. It was a council office building then and I remember passing it on the way home to the rented flat I was living in then. It closed not long after I arrived and though I’ve lived in different places around the city, anytime I went down Leith Walk I would clock that it was still there, still empty.
Some of you probably think I’m getting a bit off topic, not an empty home after all. And not being brought back into use, being demolished. But a waste is a waste as far as I am concerned. And that is what this building always seemed to me, the same wasted potential that lies dormant in abandoned empty homes. As it turns out the developers who are demolishing Shrubhill House are building accommodation, for students. I’m trying not to think about how this will increase the queues at my local co-op supermarket and focusing more on how much more vibrant the area will feel with these new inhabitants.
Blight is a word that often comes up around discussions of empty properties. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it means ‘degeneration of a landscape or urban area as a result of neglect’. Shrubhill House certainly epitomises that for me. It towers over the street, covered in graffiti and metal sheeting, a much larger scale example of what an empty home can do on a residential street. I’ve noticed it particularly this past year as I’ve become a neighbour to this imposing shell. It can’t help but depress me a little bit each time I see it juxtaposed to the leafy green trees that line this bit of the street. It’s in a prime location, not 15 minutes’ walk from Princes Street. For over 10 years it has lain there wasted. All that potential lost.
After passing this building in this state for so many years I was quite frankly floored that there really was a bulldozer that really was pulling it down. It made me think of the neighbours of some of the very long term empty homes that have been brought back into use by some of Scotland’s Empty Homes Officers. 10 year plus empty properties that have caused neighbours to be stuck in their homes because they can’t sell their own due to the state of the house next to them, or living in fear for their own safety on account of broken windows and vandalism at close proximity. As I said I don’t even live right next door to this building, but I think when I saw the bulldozer I felt just a little bit of the relief that those neighbours must feel when they see someone finally selling, renovating or letting out that empty home because an Empty Homes Officer finally stepped in and got the owner moving. For those neighbours the effect is not just about the waste and lost potential it’s much more personal than that. So an extra dose of appreciation to all you EHOs today from me as I can’t thank whoever is responsible for tearing down the blight near me.