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From solstice to spring

The winter solstice is a time for reflection and a chance to look forward to brighter days, says Melanie Main.

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day. Bit by bit, we are now crawling back towards spring.

Back in mid-March, when the COVID-19 wave first hit us, who would have anticipated that we’d be still engulfed in its surge? In the dark depths of Scottish winter it is not easy to see bright horizons. And for some people the times have been darker still. Families who have lost loved ones. Older citizens who have suffered dreadful isolation. The tragedies of suicide and addiction which have intensified in 2020, as I highlighted in the last council meeting in December.

But the bright horizons are there. Vaccination has started. Although it will take time, each jag is a step nearer to a return for normal community and family life. That is why it is so important that we all stay safe over Christmas and New Year. So much hard work and sacrifice has been made to keep infection levels down. Over the last couple of weeks there has been a heated debate as to what level Edinburgh should be on for restrictions. Wherever you stand on that, the only reason the debate is there at all is because collectively the city has made an enormous effort to change the way we live our lives to remove risks. So continuing to do that over the festive period is what will bring closer the day when we can hug grandparents, gather with friends and see businesses revive. Short term pain for swifter gain may not always be popular but if that’s what it takes…

It’s not all about back to business as usual though. In the course of 2020 many of us have discovered or re-discovered what truly matters. The importance of looking after your mental wellbeing as much as your physical health. How precious are our parks and greenspaces and the blue/green corridors that link them – so elegantly captured in Helen Ilus’ first metro-style Edinburgh Greenground map The astonishing resilience shown by our community networks and third sector bodies in the city, making sure that people in greatest need or facing prolonged isolation are given the help they need.

That is why there is growing appetite to do better than the status work which we had before March: to work towards a new normal. That means a Green Recovery which treasures our green spaces and improves them for people and wildlife alike. Building on the new joy so many extra people have found in walking, wheeling and cycling round our beautiful city and making sure it isn’t just wiped out by the relentless growth in traffic and congestion. Making real the radical vision of a 15-minute city where community networks are strengthened and services are delivered much closer to where people live.

As we move through spring and summer towards autumn 2021, Scotland will host COP21, the global climate change summit and the largest ever conference to be held in Scotland. As such, all eyes will be on the capital to see if we walk the talk. The good news is that doing so will also result in Edinburgh being a better place in which to live.

What’s not to love?