We love art at Pedestrian Space and often dedicate Fridays to featuring an artist whose work often depicts scenes of urbanism and mobility. This Friday we feature Edinburgh, Scotland-based Jenny Elliott, a multi-disciplinary designer whose work involves a mix of live urban design projects, visual communication (graphic design, illustration, photography) and research (public spaces, public life, active travel, pedestrian experience). A Chartered Landscape Architect and Urban Designer with 10 years of experience working in the UK, Denmark and Australia, Jenny is currently doing a part-time Ph.D. exploring how to improve place outcomes for public spaces alongside leading live urban design project ‘The Future of the High Street‘ for the Edinburgh Futures Institute, as well as her freelance design and illustration work.
“I find this mix of research and practice can be hugely beneficial.” Jenny notes .”In particular, a common thread throughout all my work is public life. How can we design, create or support vibrant, inclusive and attractive public spaces that people want to walk, cycle and spend time? These sort of streets and places improve quality of life, health and well-being, and are environmentally sustainable and distinctive. They are both aims and ambitions for my urban design work (including leading Public Life Studies), a focus of my PhD research, and feature heavily in my design, photography and illustration.“
Pedestrian Space: Does your city or town of residence inspire your work in any way?
Jenny: I feel very lucky to live in Edinburgh – a city that constantly inspires me. I love going for a walk, sketchbook or iPad with Procreate in hand, and finding everyday scenes – from the public spaces and high streets lined with stone facades, to more hidden gems – like windy cobbled lanes and nooks of Edinburgh’s historic built environment to draw. There are also some fantastic vistas across the rooftops toward the sea or Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano in the heart of the city) from Inverleith Park, Carlton Hill and Bruntsfield Links which are stunning and give a real sense of scale and character, as well as some phenomenal architecture in all shapes and sizes (though tenements topped with turrets are a favourite!).
Pedestrian Space: What is the relationship between the city and your art? Does urbanism influence your work?
Jenny: Urbanism is definitely central to my work. Perhaps that’s to be expected as an Urban Designer! Some of my favourite scenes to illustrate or photograph are everyday street scenes. Public space is such an important and interesting space. It’s the place you step into when you leave your house or flat, the place you cross paths (quite literally!) with the whole community, and a place that is shared and collective. It’s also defined and framed by the buildings and architecture adjacent, so that interplay and threshold of building and street or open space I find really interesting. Much of my design, illustration and photography work is focused on documenting and visually communicating these everyday important streets and places of connection, play, conversation, daily life and activity.
Pedestrian Space: What mediums do you work with?
Jenny: For years, I mainly worked on drawings in pen and ink, with digital design tools like Adobe Creative Suite reserved for my urban design work. Recently, however, I am a complete Procreate convert for illustration! I use this on my iPad Pro, and am really enjoying exploring this as an alternative way of working that is quickly becoming my go-to. Though nothing can beat a bit of messy creating with pen, ink and paint sometimes too!
Pedestrian Space: How do you move around the city and what is your favorite mode?
Jenny: My favourite way to move around the city is definitely by bike, though walking is a close second. I have a rickety old vintage bike that somehow manages to get me up the Edinburgh hills with 3 gears and a bit of huffing and puffing! There’s nothing quite like a cycle on a sunny day with the wind in your hair as the world whizzes past. Perhaps it’s that cruising speed – a bit faster than walking so the scenery is constantly changing, but you still feel part of your surroundings and city public life – the snatches of conversations, sound of the wind in the trees, bumps of the road, and of course (though less appealing!) the cars and traffic too. I do love a good walk as well though. With the recent Covid restrictions a friend and I would meet for an evening walk outside around the city once a week, and there’s something magical about taking the city in on foot, of exploring and seeing where you end up.
Pedestrian Space: What is your favorite street or sidewalk space in your city of residence?
Jenny: I love all the narrow lanes and hidden backstreets and paths that criss-cross through certain parts of Edinburgh – against the grain of the main streets. The ones you have to know are there to be able to find, or those you stumble across when you go an unusual route. They are usually narrow, cobbled and eventually bring you back out on to a totally different street than you were expecting! Favourites are Dublin Meuse/Northumberland Place, and the narrow footpath ‘Lovers Loan’ that runs north-south through Marchmont.
“Principles of sustainable urbanism need to be core to any successful city. In particular, working with the existing city fabric and gradually embedding and adapting this to help create compact, social and ‘green’ characteristics wherever possible – from making cycling, walking or public transport the logical, most pleasant, quickest and convenient mobility choices, to creating public spaces that incorporate green infrastructure and maximise public life to support well-being and social connection.”-Jenny Elliott
Pedestrian Space: Are there other pedestrian areas in your city you like to spend time in or appreciate?
Jenny: Edinburgh has some fantastic parks and green spaces as well as a popular walking route along the Union Canal past jetties and avenue trees at Harrison Park. A walk through Inverleith Park to catch the view over the pond and back up toward the city centre, with all the stone buildings and rooftops and castle peeking out on top is fantastic, particularly in the evening. Also the Hermitage of Braid walking track along the river with orange and red autumn trees is particularly spectacular.
Pedestrian Space: What challenges, as well as opportunities, do you see with issues of walkability in your city?
Jenny: Edinburgh is a brilliant size city for walking, and has a huge variety of interesting routes depending on whether you want to meander via parks, over hill-tops, take in a view or go more directly via busier more central streets. However, despite some recent improvements, like many cities, there’s still a way to go before pedestrians are truly given priority in terms of street infrastructure matching the aspiration, with traffic and parking spaces still dominant in many places. There are huge opportunities for more accessible and inclusive street spaces that better support walking through adequate seating, easy and direct walking connections over busy roads and more trees, planting, and wider pavements that prioritise those moving on foot, whilst also enhancing the overall sense of place of these public spaces.
Visit Jenny online at http://jennyelliott.co.uk
PhD public realm survey: Are you a built environment professional currently designing, planning or making decisions affecting the public realm? Support Jenny’s research by filling in this survey: https://edinburgh.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/phd-survey-public-realm-design-and-decision-making-crea For each survey completed she donates £1 to Trees for Cities.