Livingston is Broken

This article is adapted from my response to a local Councillor on the state of Livingston's urban planning. View my first letter here

A Letter to our Councillors on Urbanism

I was born and raised in a town in Scotland called Livingston. I think it's broken.

Here's Murieston, my section of town. Suburbs bordered by boring industrial estate. There is a hairdresser, a co-op and two takeaways within walking distance for this entire area, because we've designed Murieston to be a suburb with a single commercial area allowed near the train station. This is the antithesis of mixed-use development, and leads to yet more suburban sprawl as you can see being constructed in the bottom right! I would have absolutely loved to have a mixed-use, walkable neighbourhood developed next to my house instead of more 'non-places' like suburban, paved, car-owned streets.

Do you think anyone living in the new neighbourhood in the bottom right is going to think "Oh great, I don't


a car to live here?" rather than "It's a long way to the centre, this town has zero priority for bikes and I need to drive my kids to school... I'll keep the car"?

And what about Dedridge or Eliburn? A Morrisons and a Co-op. A few more shops spread out on corners because the houses are designed to be single-family, detached or semi-detached homes. Making the viability of walking to what you need significantly more inconvenient for the average dweller compared to just hopping in the car.

One interesting note about looking at the map of "businesses" on Google Maps is that most of these places are private residences where it looks like folks have just set up shop with hair salons, tanning companies and art stores. In a mixed-use, walkable neighbourhood, these people would occupy business units with flats above, making for significant tax per sq ft increases. Instead, they do the best they can from their nested, sparse culs-de-sac to attract customers. I'll talk about this a bit later, but do keep in mind that the urban planning of Livingston is directly impacting the ability of small businesses to compete at all against the enormous big-box stores that have a stranglehold on our town centres.

Advocating in favour of and continuing to build new suburbs is encouraging the Americanisation and fossil fuel addiction of our town. The way I see us as most prominently heading down this unsustainable path would be the addition of yet more single-family home suburbs and continuing to focus on having people commute to the enormous, car-infested shopping center in the middle of town.


How many single-store small businesses occupy space in the centre? I would wager

south of 10%

. Livingston was intentionally designed around the idea of the shopping centre


, concentrating all commercial activity into a single chunk instead of the traditional forms of mixed-use, walkable neighbourhoods. The experiment appears to be going poorly for the community.

How ugly is this aerial shot of the inefficient, pedestrian-hostile, commercial parking lot that is supposedly what makes this town so great? Look at the incredible waste of land dedicated to enormous amounts of parking infrastructure, just to provide a gateway for American corporations to graciously franchise their stores to. Not a single one of these massive buildings is a local business. What pedestrian in their right mind finds navigating great seas of cars to get to the shops a pleasant experience? I wonder what percentage of people living in the suburbs have ever


to dinner out at Tony Macaroni...

It is hard for me to accept that there was any action being taken in this council towards environmentally friendly or local business friendly policies when the Starbucks


was opened not too many years ago. Starbucks's drive-thru occupies half a square Km of our prime town centre, as a monument to cars and America. Projects like that make me wonder what the objective of the centre is, if not to enrich multinational conglomerates and encourage car use. For the record, I am against enriching multinational conglomerates and encouraging car use.

Compare the above image to just a single square kilometer of Mid Calder below. You can see clearly that the restaurants and stores here are either truly small chains or independent small businesses, a significant improvement over the Livingston centre's 10%. Small businesses are generally accepted as good for the economy. If Mid Calder made that street walkable and low-car it would be very pleasant indeed to spend time on.

Building specifically designed infrastructure for corporations like KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks and the other conglomerates in the form of large shopping centres has made it completely unthinkable to build a denser, walkable, mixed-use area like the one that already existed in Mid Calder. Their Main St existed long before the automobile industry convinced the designers of Livingston that cars are more important than humans and any urban planning must, at all costs, favour driving to the shopping centre over pleasant, walkable, mixed-use streets. (American video for context again, but still applicable to our own automobile industry:


Once you start noticing where we've gone wrong in designing this town, with a fundamental mismatch between what could be a large collection of walkable, quiet suburbs next to denser, mixed-use main streets, you start to feel a sense of loss for the community and atmosphere that could have been. I know I did.

I deeply believe in this cause and wish that we could turn back time on my poorly designed town. Please do look more into denser, mixed-use development for our town, and advocate for it when you can. Do not allow us to slip further and further into suburbanisation, atomisation and car-dependency. Livingston should not be focussed around American food chains and parking lots.

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