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August 29, 2012

Happy residents make for happy visitors

The vennels of Edinburgh’s Old Town were overflowing with festival goers last weekend – traditionally the busiest last few days of the Fringe.  But Edinburgh is a year round tourist destination and for those who live in this part of the city, visitors are part and parcel of daily life. Two board members of the Old Town Development Trust have been reflecting on how local community development should be able to serve the needs of locals and visitors alike.



Two short contributions by board members of Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust.

The Old Town is one of the UK’s top tourist destinations with attractions of international significance and appeal. The area is pivotal in attracting visitors not only to Edinburgh but to Scotland as a whole. The Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust’s work in community development has a key role to play in sustainable tourism-related economic growth in the Old Town.

As long ago as the late 1980s a tourism study of the Old Town led by the late Bert Winterbottom (a development and planning consultant from Columbia University) emphasised quality over quantity. He pointed to the growing sophistication of tourism worldwide in a climate of growing competition:

… cities are becoming more competitive in trying to attract tourists, while maintaining the authenticity, quality and environment that is so important to the local resident who is impacted by tourism.

Reporting on the study to the Civilising the City conference in 1990, Winterbottom set out a few essential principles for the successful development of the industry; the resident or ‘local’ was central to that development:

Most visitors do not want to go to places occupied only by people like themselves. They want to go where the natives go, eat and be entertained by the attractions that are part of the character and culture of the city…

The local resident contributes to the authenticity and ambience of the place which is what the true visitor seeks. The civilised city provides first for the resident and then for the visitor.

By ‘providing for the resident’, EOTDT can make a direct contribution to a vibrant tourist industry in the Old Town: its emphasis on supporting the local community and preserving the diverse culture and historic integrity of the area; its desire to work with residents, workers and local institutions to create a healthy, balanced and sustainable urban economy can only be good for the tourism sector. 

One only has to take a short walk down the Royal Mile to witness the dismal impact of ‘Disneyfication’ on the area. Providing a distinctive, Old Town experience for the visitor will depend on the ‘local’, and the involvement of residents in the local economy. It is what EOTDT wants to achieve – and it’s just what the Old Town needs.

                                                                                                    By Sean Bradley

An article by David Kohn (an architect who lives in London) appeared in the journal “Architecture Today” . It’s about Milan but seems to epitomise the kind of city many of us would like to live in. 

Kohn starts by saying that in Milan it is still possible to live and work in the same place. People live above the shops, offices and services at street level (as they do still in some parts of Edinburgh, especially the Old Town). Similar sized rooms can be used for different purposes. As a consequence he says:

“The Milanese prefer doing business with people they know. And by business I am referring to having shoes repaired, new lenses made for glasses, buying socks, ham, umbrellas – everyday stuff. But rather than seeing the cobbler as part of an economy that is separate from one’s social life, the feeling is of a continuous cycle of exchange. The shoe repairer has his glasses repaired by the optician, who buys her ham from the delicatessen who buys his socks from hosier who has her shoes repaired by the cobbler. And there is great expectation of quality from each participant in the loop as it guarantees their continued place at the table.” 

Kohn continues “I have asked myself if an appreciation of a world made of rooms – shops, workshops, apartments, offices, ice-cream parlours, garages – is nostalgic, a dead-end..But then I think I should get my shoes repaired properly and not throw them away, then I want to go downstairs and take advice from the printer, that a walk will inspire me, that I want to be surrounded by a city I can participate in. And I return to Milan.”

Is it too much to hope that the Old Town can be revitalised on this model?

                                                                                                                      By Jim Johnson