Sandra Dick: Living with our city’s Jekyll and Hyde persona

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WHEN Robert Louis Stevenson sat down to write Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the result was not just a good scary story to devour by a roaring fire on a bleak winter evening.

The protagonist’s two faces, one evil, one morally upright, seemed to mirror that of the city of the author’s birth: a plush New Town of fine upstanding characters – well, mostly – and a seething Old Town where prostitution and crime, drunken behaviour and poverty were rife.

But surely times have changed? Edinburgh is nearly always listed as one of the top places to live, to visit. It’s unbelievably beautiful, we have Michelin star restaurants, posh hotels, fancy bars and nice houses. We have Harvey Nichols, for goodness sake.

Last week, I went to Wester Hailes, to a social work centre where staff deal with any number of horror stories. Drink and drugs, abuse, crime and poverty, all there – just as it may well be behind the doors of many a “respectable middle-class” housing estate – but here, where there is so much hopelessness and despair, it all seems at odds with Edinburgh’s glowing reputation.

It’s not only Wester Hailes. How shocking is it that in 2013, people in Edinburgh are so hungry that they visit food banks? Here in a city that boasts 15 of the most expensive streets in Scotland, including, in top slot, Dick Place, where the price of a foothold is around £1.6 million?

Highly unlikely that any Dick Place properties feature among the 162 homes in the NHS Lothian area into which, it emerged at the weekend, ambulance crews will not tread alone for fear of attack.

And as for the truly horrific events which unfolded around the relatively peaceful areas of Willowbrae and Duddingston: cars driven at high speed, a man dead, another seriously injured, firearms, talk of gangs – hardly the Edinburgh most of us think we know.

As if to prove that Jekyll and Hyde theory, later in the week I ventured to leafy Barnton, to a street that had expensive cars in every drive, spectacular gardens and beautiful homes. Dr Jekyll would feel at home here, with the nice couple who politely inquired what kind of stories I worked on and that surely there wasn’t much crime in Edinburgh to bother about.

Two personalities, one city.

Of course we should celebrate Edinburgh’s hard-won status as a city of great beauty. Let’s not forget, though, that a short drive away lurks that other side to Edinburgh life, not as pretty, a bit down on its luck and quite a bit messed up.