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Turn old tracks into new pathways

For years the Edinburgh, Leith, Newhaven and Granton railway network connected the city centre with the industry of the harbours in the north of the city. The tracks have gone, but life still pulses through them.

For years the Edinburgh, Leith, Newhaven and Granton railway network connected the city centre with the industry of the harbours. The tracks have gone, but life still pulses through them. Credit: Edinburgh Photo.

Old railway tracks around Edinburgh have proven a community lifeline over the last three months. The former local lines were converted years ago into a network of cycle paths. Last winter, I discovered on my bicycle how it was possible to traverse the whole city without seeing a car or, for that matter, many people. These cycle pathways, at the time, felt like a well-guarded local secret.

Fast forward to the transition from spring into summer in 2020, and these disused, unloved railway tracks have become a pulsing network of community, providing a green space and moment of beauty during our hours of exercise time, outside our housebound confinement.

Every few hundred metres, you realise you’re walking through a former railway station — one of them has even been kept, converted into a house, another into a startup studio space.

Above all, they’ve provided routes for my thinking. The investment in railway tracks that were useful for barely a few decades might have seemed like a waste when they were mothballed through the 1960s, 70s and into the early recession of the 1980s.

Bringing them out of abandonment at great expense in the 1990s and 2000s might have felt like a luxurious thing to be doing while we suffered yet another financial meltdown.

But investing during times of crises is what we do as humans. We invest in ourselves, we invest in our ideas, we invest in our learning.

I wish that were the case across the board today. But that’s not what we see at the moment. Many leaders have been thrown into frenetic activity, busy work and worrying about “what could be” at a time we might be better thinking slowly, and reconnecting with those who can help the most.

It took 30 years for these railway lines to be changed, and another 20 before the transition was maybe complete, thanks to yet another crisis. But most industries, and especially the world of education, maybe feel they can’t afford half a century to work out what to do next.

So instead of freezing stock still, or continuing an unsustainable frenzy of activity, how can you find new pathways in the old tracks you used to use, but which don’t serve their original function any more?

Ewan McIntosh is the CEO and founder of global learning agency, NoTosh. The firm develops strategy, and re-articulates the purpose and values of the world’s most innovative, forward-looking, successful schools.

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Ewan McIntosh

Ewan McIntosh

I help people find their place in a team to achieve something bigger than they are. NoTosh.com