Edinburgh Part 1 – The Best City in the World

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Alex Kirby

(Edinburgh) is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.

Alexander McCall Smith, Work of Beauty

The UK and Scotland have their fair share of amazing places – London remains one of the top destinations for tourists and Dundee is getting much overdue attention and praise as the V&A is set to open next year.

However, for me, one city stands above all else.

Recently, The Scotsman reported that Edinburgh had been rated as top European Cultural and Creative city of it’s size and The Rough Guide’s readers also voted Edinburgh as the best city in the world.

Edinburgh is my favourite city in the world too – better than London, New York, Paris, Venice, Prague, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Toronto or Lisbon. It has it’s own “Goldilocks Principle” of a very unique mixture of elements combining to be just perfect for me.

  • It’s got “old” and “new” town areas that provide interest and architectural beauty
  • large enough to have a buzz but small enough to feel like you belong; you don’t feel like a number
  • it’s got great green areas such as The Meadows, the Water of Leith and Princes Street Gardens
  • It’s got a stunning centre point of The Castle overlooking Princes Street
  • It’s got a mixture of beautiful historical and contemporary architecture such as The Balmoral Hotel, The Old Post Office building, now Waverley Gate and Quartermile
  • A real sense of history while encouraging forward thinking innovation
  • It’s got many diverse, intertwined and overlapping neighbourhoods that make every journey interesting
  • Many of these neighbourhoods actually allow you to live comfortably right in the city centre which is unusual for a major city
  • A Great selection of independent shops, cafes & restaurants
  • A diverse mix of cultural dining experiences from Asian to Mediterranean to North American
  • The best cultural places anywhere with NMS, The Portrait Gallery and The City Art Centre to name just a few
  • The annual wonder that is The Edinburgh Book Festival
  • A vibrant modern business community with loads of job opportunities
  • It’s design & layout encourage and promote exploration on foot

And I really could go on and on and on…

I can walk down Princes Street any day of the week, with the Old Town on one side and The New town on the other, just thinking that this is simply the best place in the world.

However, there is mounting concern over where Edinburgh is headed with it’s current slate of construction developments. How do we preserve and respect the beauty and heritage of Edinburgh while progressing the city for the 21st century? Some are going as far as to say that Edinburgh is at a tipping point and could lose it’s World Heritage status. Losing its “status” is one thing and would be very disappointing but in real terms of having a city that could actually be less beautiful – that would be a real shame.

There are over 1000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) globally; 30 of them in the UK with 6 of them in Scotland including St Kilda, The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, New Lanark, The Antonine Wall and The Forth Bridge. The Old & New Towns of Edinburgh were added to the list in 1995 as they “represent a remarkable blend of two urban phenomena: organic medieval growth and 18th and 19th century city planning.” Edinburgh also has the highest concentration of Category A listed buildings in Scotland. Every WHS site must demonstrate how it is meeting its obligations under the WHS Convention which requires each site to have a management plan that sets out how its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) will be protected.

These are 5 year plans – the latest of which begins now and runs until 2022 with the management partners being Edinburgh Council, Historic Environment Scotland and Edinburgh World Heritage. As part of the ongoing plan – any new development must take into account the unique qualities of the Site (i..e the OUV) care and attention must be taken to ensure any changes preserves and enhances the OUV. For developments of any scale the significance of the Site must be understood. Before a development proceeds it needs to produce a State of Conversation Report for consideration by the World Heritage Committee to ensure preservation. If this does not meet their standards any site may be placed on the World Heritage In Danger list. Once on this list it can take many years to reduce the problem back to a satisfactory level – or if not improved can be removed from the WHS list.

In parts 2 and 3 I’ll look at Edinburgh’s architectural excellence and the controversy surrounding some of Edinburgh’s current developments.

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