Five fascinating facts about Edinburgh

Some interesting facts about Edinburgh are emerging from the 2011 census. Here’s a flavour of five areas with some of my own reflections. Warning – lots of numbers!

Capital Fact 1. We are an increasingly diverse population. Almost 8% of the capital’s population describe themselves as white but not British – mainly other Europeans, I imagine, and driven by expansion of higher education and by workers from elsewhere in the EU. The number of people describing themselves as “non-white” (using the rather clumsy census term) has also doubled in the last 10 years.

Personally, I think that trend is good for a city which wants to pride itself as looking outwards. It may also help to explain the 18.5% rise in the economically important 25-29 age group, more than double the Scottish average.

Capital Fact 2. The city population has grown although not by as much as had been thought. The population has risen by 28,000 since 2001 to 477,000. In numerical terms the rise in Edinburgh population is the highest in Scotland but in relative terms Edinburgh is only a middle-ranker. The Aberdeenshire population has grown at almost twice the rate of Edinburgh, and East and West Lothian both post higher rises than the capital. The census figures are also about 19,000 fewer than the planning figures with which the City Council had hitherto been working, the assumption being that the census is more likely to be accurate.

I don’t yet have the detailed data, but I strongly suspect that some of the population growth has been displaced to neighbouring authorities in the wider city-region, with consequences for land use and travel patterns.

Capital Fact 3. So (with that important caveat about displacement) within the city, the growth in population has been handled by expanding up the way rather than out the way. As a city, we live in flats: 60% of us live in flats or tenements and the number of flats has increased by 14% since 2001. As a consequence neighbourhood densities have increased in some parts of the city over the last 10 years: mainly in the traditional core tenement areas, from Leith up through the city centre to Marchmont, Fountainbridge and Gorgie-Dalry.

Again, I assume that some of the demand for the lower density homes has been displaced outside of the city, particularly as families grow – while Edinburgh has the highest growth in 0-4 age group of anywhere in Scotland, it has reduced numbers in 5-16 age group. Higher densities may also be associated with the enormous growth in private renting (see below) where sharing properties is much more common.

Density as described here is at a neighbourhood level. But, by contrast, we are increasingly taking up more space within homes, as the graph below shows. 39% of us live alone and the growth in the number of rooms over the last 40 years has outstripped the growth in population or households. That, I imagine, adds an extra dimension for improving energy efficiency in homes, although the average disguises a huge amount of variation.

Capital fact 4. Travel patterns are shifting but mixed. Higher neighbourhood density may explain the 56% rise in cycling to work in Edinburgh over the last 10 years (albeit from a pretty low starting point) and the 9% rise in walking to work. Taking the bus to work has risen by 8%. Just over a third of households drive to work in Edinburgh (compare that to 52% in Aberdeen but 14% in London), and this has declined by 5% in the last 10 years. There has been a 10% growth in households without a car; but also 8% rise in households with a car (obviously the total number of households has grown – by 9%). Overall, there has been a 10% rise in the number of cars owned.

So, people in Edinburgh have more cars but are using them less at the busiest times. However, the growth in car numbers poses pressure for land-use for car-parking. And the huge caveat in these data is that they are for Edinburgh residents only. I don’t yet have data for travel to work flows from outside of the city and that could easily match or surpass any reductions in private car commuting made by Edinburgh-based residents.

Capital fact 5. Renting is on the up, home-ownership on the wane. Since 2001, 12% more people rent from social landlords as housing associations have grown and Right to Buy has withered. Meanwhile, the number of people renting from a private landlord has grown by a staggering 95%. Home ownership has declined by 6%.

It would not do to overstate this. Most people in Edinburgh are still home-owners. However, the trend is towards a more European housing model, although, arguably, without the degree of professionalism and higher standards which accompany most private renting in continental cities. Still some catching up to do.

I have barely skimmed the surface of what the 2011 census tells us. As always the delay between census day and data being available (over two years in some cases) means that focus already needs to be looking ahead to 2021 (if there is a census at all) and the much more significant strides that have to be made towards a sustainable Edinburgh by then.