Artwash, Over-Tourism and Edinburgh

The image of Edinburgh’s central park – Princes Street Gardens – blacked out and blocked off – has acted as a trigger for many people concerned with the phenomenon known globally as “over-tourism” – where a place becomes so saturated with visitors that it undermines the very nature of the place itself. Over-tourism alienates and excludes local people and changes the physical infrastructure of the city. This has been seen in Edinburgh for a long time but is now reaching a crescendo. A threshold has been reached which has been catapulted forward by a convergence of issues about gentrification, development, planning and a housing crisis all of which seem to ask the same question: who does the city belong to?

As Fountainbridge tweeted: “Welcome to #Edinburgh. Please enjoy these spectacular views of @edinburghcastle from behind these 10 foot high barriers. We’ve also closed off 1/3 of the busy pavement for your safety.”

The experience isn’t confined to the city centre, with bus stops being abandoned in Pilrig as the city of the car becomes unmanageable and over-run. The city is ridiculously over-crowded with the pedestrian experience being one of being shunted around a dangerously overcrowded urban landscape.

All of this happens within a context of Creative Scotland’s rolling omnishambles and the feeling that Scotland is – at best – strategically inept at supporting its own indigenous arts and cultural workers. It’s well-known within local promoters and venues that the festival actually undermines the year-round cultural scene with the thinking that ‘you can play till 3am in August but in September you need to quiet down’ being played out in planning and licence debates. The closure of dozens of small-scale venues has been documented by Bella before. But the dynamic between the festival and everyday Edinburgh – and wider Scottish culture is not a positive one.

The overwhelming impression is that the festival is located in but not of Edinburgh.

The danger is that the Athens of the North becomes the Disneyland of the North.

Cultural Tourism

None of this is the Festival or the Fringe’s fault, they just lie at the epicentre of a phenomenon of cultural tourism that has seen Edinburgh absorbed and distorted by tourist visitors. The visitor experience has become diluted and poisoned by the commercial imperative so that they may come and visit the Scottish capital and learn nothing of its history, know nothing about the culture of the country they are in and meet no-one who is actually from the city.

Culture becomes hollowed-out commodified and meaningless. The saturation tourism effectively destroys the thing that has made it attractive in the first place. Try Skye.

The effect is heightened by the endless desire to promote the city all year-round. This results in what’s being called the Permanent Festival. The barriers are barely being dismantled in September before the next round of cultural events are being programmed and the breathless race to New Year / Winter Festival (or Hogmanay as the locals call it).

Old Town Communities

The worst affected communities in Edinburgh are those people living in the Old Town who suffer an endless parade of Stag and Hen Parties a stream of walking tours and pop-up events and a quality of life completely undermined with whole neighbourhoods distorted by a constant influx of people. Basic amenities become unusable or inaccessible. Noise pollution, streets closed and amenities re-channeled to cater entirely for mass tourism are just some of the issues that local community groups have complained about for years.

This is taking new forms.

In a display of unprecedented infantilism and complete disregard for the sanctity of a cemetery, tourists obsessed with JK Rowlings wizard stories are churning up a graveyard in search of Tom Riddles grave. As Vice reported in January (“Harry Potter Tourism Is Ruining Edinburgh”):

“A couple of years ago, there were warnings that the sheer number of tourists in Edinburgh, alongside the rapid rise of unregulated holiday lets and overdevelopment of new hotels, was making the city’s Old Town increasingly hostile for those who live there, and even threatening its heritage status. Just last month, another Edinburgh literary titan, Alexander McCall Smith, warned that the city was in danger of becoming “a vulgar wasteland of tourist tat shops, big hotels and nothing much else”, with families driven out. The sudden rise in Harry Potter tourism seems to cut to the heart of that, cheered by local tourism chiefs and some businesses, but bearing very little relation to the city of Edinburgh or its inhabitants, aside from the only one who matters: JK Rowling. In Northern Ireland, drastic road closure measures have already had to be brought into play after the country got more than it bargained for when hordes of Games of Thrones tourists started descending on sites that were unprepared for the onslaught.”

Pay and Conditions

Whilst huge play is made of the money the festivals generate for the city, closer examination suggests it’s quite a specific intake. As CommonSpace reported recently:

“Pressure has mounted on the companies behind the biggest venues of the Edinburgh Fringe to reform the “shameful” working conditions of their workers, following the release of a report by the trade union-backed Fair Fringe campaign.”

 

The report comes on the back of the recent Underbelly controversy, in which the entertainment company offered, in return for work at the annual street party event in Scotland’s capital, to reimburse volunteers with travel expenses and meals and, after they complete their shifts, a “thank you message” and a certificate.”

Etonians Ed Bartlam & Charlie Wood are the directors of Underbelly which boasts on its own website that it:

“also produces Edinburgh’s Christmas, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, Christmas in Leicester Square, Udderbelly Festival in Hong Kong, West End Live in Trafalgar Square and Pride in London for Westminster City Council”.

At the time Bryan Simpson from Better Than Zero and the Unite trade union told Bella Caledonia:

“To ask 120 well-trained staff to work 12 hours in the freezing cold for free is morally unacceptable and possibly illegal given the profit made by the event. As one of the main sponsors of the event we will be asking questions of Edinburgh City Council, particularly given their unanimous support of our Fair Hospitality Charter which commits the council to the pay the living wage at its venues.”

If the Fair Fringe reports is accurate, little has changed, and the festival remains a focus for vast profits and mass exploitation.

Infrastructure Change

One of the central concerns against over-tourism” is the knock-on effect on the physical infrastructure of the city – from the planning obsession with high-end hotels – to the infestation of Airbnb that means that people who already own a house by a second or third flat purely to rent it out. Whole stairways that used to support mixed communities now have Airbnb – a permanent turnover of party tourists with no commitment to, or interest in those around them. It’s not their fault but the unregulated short-termism of this phenomenon blights and changes whole neighbourhoods. It’s telling that in the data visualisation of Airbnb below (click to enlarge) the only blank areas you can make out – are the remaining public spaces – the Meadows, the aforementioned Princes Street Gardens and the Castle.

The attack on the physical infrastructure of the city is to just about the festival and the over-tourism phenomenon as we have seen by the obsession with hotels which destroy the nature of the city and key amenities (like Central Library).

Thomas Hamilton’s Royal High School, built between 1825-9, is one of the most important Greek Revival buildings in Europe, yet it is still under threat from a predatory bid to turn it into a “Six star Art hotel”.

The proposals are being opposed a Coalition of Edinburgh-based organisations are opposing the hotel plan and are committed to fighting this scheme at the upcoming appeal. As the Cockburn Association has pointed out:

“The plans for a new hotel on the site have been widely opposed in the city and by national institutions including Historic Environment Scotland.  The proposals have been refused planning and listed building consent twice.  However, the Developers behind the scheme have appealed against the decision of City of Edinburgh Council to reject the hotel plan, and the case will now be heard by Scottish government-appointed reporters later this year.” More here.

The pattern can be seen cross the city.

Proposals to build a massive Virgin Hotel, rising to 11 storeys, behind Central Library which will block out light and undermine the entire user experience have faced strong opposition but have been met so far by at best incompetence and at worst collusion. There continues to be a complete failure of political leadership about one of the country’s finest assets, a key public building and resource being undermined for the good of the super-rich. An independent Daylight Assessment on the impact of the ‘development’ on the Central Library has recently been published, revealing that if the Virgin Hotel is built the natural daylighting conditions will decrease by as much as a staggering 82%.

Edinburgh prides itself – and sells itself – as a ‘cultural capital’ and a City of Literature, but as other cities like Birmingham open the biggest library in Europe, the political leaders in Scotland’s capital sell out its soul.

While Central Library is just one of dozens of sites under threat across Scotland (see Bishopbriggs, South Lanarkshire, Sutherland, Culloden), it is a key battleground in trying to turnaround the onslaught of development.

You can’t simultaneously claim unique status while selling key cultural spaces. We should be following the lead of other cities and developing not destroying our public assets: opening them up, not shutting them down.

As the writer AL Kennedy has put it:

“Despite digital reading possibilities, the role of libraries hasn’t changed. They’re a social space, a community information space, a breath of fresh air for young mums and pensioners, an access to peace and mental restoration for those in crisis. If you can’t afford books, digital or otherwise, if your school is failing or education never quite made it a library is a door to everywhere. Library closures hurt our most vulnerable the most. Close libraries and you spike social mobility and tear up hopes for generations to come. It’s inexcusable, short-sighted and frankly the cheaper option if you’re fond of book burnings.”

Pseudo Public Space

The Princes Street Gardens fiasco is just the last of a long line of erosion of common land and public space.

The creation of a City for Tourists by definition means the loss of public space. Some of this is more subtle than the blocked out views of the castle and the takeover of Princes Street Gardens. A few years ago the Book Festival, to a great fanfare, “opened its doors” as a sign of some great democratic gesture. What nobody asked at the time was exactly how they’d got away with charging people to effectively walk around a book tent they’d pitched in Charlotte Square in the first place.

The same is true at the other end of George Street. St Andrew Square is a conveyor-belt of events month on month.

As the physical landscape changes so does the language.

Many of these places aren’t public spaces at all. They are what’s called ‘privately owned public spaces’ or “Pops”.

Theses are spaces that “that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers – are on the rise in London and many other British cities, as local authorities argue they cannot afford to create or maintain such spaces themselves.

Although they are seemingly accessible to members of the public and have the look and feel of public land, these sites – also known as privately owned public spaces or “Pops” – are not subject to ordinary local authority bylaws but rather governed by restrictions drawn up the landowner and usually enforced by private security companies.”(Guardian)

According to one urban space researcher: “In one report 12 other cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow, refused to reveal information about the pseudo-public spaces located in these cities. This poses a question of the level of expansion of these spaces. It also poses another, and even more critical question regarding the production and perception of public space: Is pseudo-public space becoming a mainstream way of public space provision in the UK?”

The emphasis is on consumption whether that’s of “culture’ or ‘commodities’.

As Jack Shenker has written:

“Public space campaigners point out that Pops appear unrestricted to the average person as long as they are behaving in ways that corporate landowners approve of, such as passing through on the way to work or using the area for spending and consumption. It is only by exhibiting unsanctioned behaviour – holding a political demonstration, for example, or attempting to sleep rough in the area – that citizens are able to discover the limitations on these seemingly public sites.”

The consequences to this are a subtle attack on democracy, a clear exploitation racket of events companies with the connivance of ‘arts journalists’ with as much critical edge as a bauble, and the draining of any meaning of the event itself. The Festival will end up like Hogmanay as a celebration with few people from Edinburgh at it.

Customs die, profits soar.

Metrics of Success

One of the problems with the festival is that it’s just a juggernaut. Year on year the reports come back and the only metric in town is growth, endless growth. Every year the same report come out: “more visitors than ever” and “more tickets sold than ever” is the only way the organisers reflect and ensure success as if there is no end to this upwards cycle. This paradox might sound familiar to you.

Edinburgh is the growth-virus piggybacked on a cultural event.

It is completely out of control.

And that’s part of the mythology of the Fringe – “anyone can just pitch up and put a show on.”

It started as a post-war cultural celebration based around high-art and controlled by a British elite, it morphed briefly into a more experimental cultural festival then it drowned in its own commercialism. It is an anarcho-capitalist spectacle masquerading as art and it’s destroying the city it inhabits.

It’s likely to get worse if nothing is done.

As the Scotsman reports: “Up to 200 events will be staged in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens each year under plans to hand over the running of the park to an arm’s-length operator, city council officials have admitted. The £25 million arena would host nearly seven times as many events as it does at present under a new “income generation” plan for the park”.

In what’s couched as an act of personal kindness they report: “Apex Hotels founder Norman Springford has offered to help bankroll the replacement for the Ross Bandstand and the creation of a new cafe-bar, corporate hospitality facilities and events space which will have direct access to the gardens from Princes Street.”

The consultation for this development closes on 14 September.

What is to be Done?

Unless there is widespread and urgent opposition the trajectory of the city is clear, a city designed for and shaped around the rich and designed to exclude and exploit residents. The people who profit from the city are a tight network and the lack of transparency about ownership and decision-making is a well practised art form. Is there anything we can do?

We could shut down the festival altogether and just do something else. Alternatively, here’s a ten point plan to save the festival from itself:

  1. Make it alternate years or take a year off to draw up a new agreement between city residents and the festival.
  2. Use a different metric for measuring success, facilitating better quality events and a better quality experience.
  3. Reinstate some local institutions and involvement, however symbolic these may be, such as the opening parade, the child-designed Fringe brochure cover.
  4. Reflect on why the Festival is not scheduled around the Scottish school holidays.
  5. Look at who’s making all the money and demand transparency and diversity and draw the Edinburgh festival into a local economy.
  6. Defend public spaces and demand the right for the city to have parks to breath and for people to ‘be’ without commercial intrusion. As the Green MSP Andy Wightman has pointed out: “Princes Street Gardens are common land – part of the Common Good Fund. Time to change the law & given citizens greater democratic control”.
  7. Defend the right to be able to walk about the streets without being charged and to look across the city without obstacle.
  8. Challenge the leadership and ownership of key cultural venues and organisations and place control in the hands of local artists and companies.
  9. Initiate a tourist tax. As City Lab reports: “An estimated 22 countries have imposed some form of tourism tax. Historic Alexandria, Virginia, has raised local taxes on restaurant meals by 1 percent and is using the additional revenue for affordable housing.”
  10. Insist that all companies and venues sign-up to the Fair Fringe Charter.

Alternatively we could resign ourselves to art wash, gentrification and being part players in our city.

 

 

Image credit: Norrie Harman

 

Comments (44)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Peter says:

    Some good ideas., many in fact, including using different metrics . . . always a good idea. There is a campaign in the Old Town based around the fact that people live there – “WE LIVE HERE” – I think their signs say. This area seems to be developing into a round the yearkind of theme park – – celebrating Chinese New Year soon, and any other opportunity to keep the ‘party’ going. I think having invested in the entire infrastructure of the city centre and geared it towards effectively being a large manby faceted venue, it is now clear the city seeks to fill that venue every month. But it’s not a venue – – people live there – – they always have and hopefully always will.

  2. Liz Summerfield says:

    Why hasn’t Bella make this sendable to fb via one click?

    1. Liz Summerfield says:

      I’m a Tollcross Community Councillor, briefed to make links with other organisations of local people across the city, and I’ve shared this article with all my contacts (including City Councillors) and asked for comments. This is the single issue that is damaging the quality of life for permanent, taxpaying citizens. Central Edinburgh will soon be a ghetto for transients, with only the wealthy able to afford to live centrally, and everyone else banished to the ‘schemes’, and forced to spend hours and a fortune communing in to service the visitors, and most likely earning minimum wages and on zero hours contracts. The profits made by developers and multi-nationals will not stay in the city, so what’s the benefit for us?

      1. Marilyn Clark says:

        Very true Liz. Plans are in place to ship people off to Granton in the new development to be built at the gasworks. The gentrification of Leith is part of this plan also. Draw your own conclusions as to why this has not been mentioned here.

      2. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

        Ask Donald Anderson. He has the answers to that question. He keeps telling us how we should just suck it up and shut up. According to him, the “superman” that saved not just Edinburgh’s but the European economy, the gains are just fantastic. At least for him and his associates they are.

    2. On the right hand side of the article – click to share Facebook, Twitter or Reddit

  3. Graeme Purves says:

    Spot on, Mike!

  4. Stewart Bremner says:

    A quick thought, that’s sort of related. I wonder how much of the money generated by the procession of festivals actually stays in Edinburgh.

    1. It would be good to do that calculation Stewart. Experts / advice please.

      1. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

        Don’t rely on City of Edinburgh Council for your data. Given the “fake news” they keep distributing on the “success” of the tramline (not a tram system but ONE tramline) I wouldn’t rely for decision making on anything that comes out of that institution.

      2. michael says:

        visitscotland recently (august) tendered for research that will calculate the events sector’s net economic value to the Scottish economy and establish a benchmark value which may be monitored over time.

    2. John says:

      The real Fringe profits come from selling beer. Thus the impetus towards the campus-style venues of the big operators – Assembly, Underbelly, Pleasance – where the punters are encouraged to stay and drink after (or in) the show. I’m aware that at least one thesis has been devoted to the subject, and that its conclusions suggested the real profits flowed back south with the promoters at the end of the month.
      I would urge caution over churlishness here, however. The Festivals were not invented, inspired or instigated by Edinburgh or its small c conservative citizenry and it is no bad thing that the spectacle is, in important respects, above and beyond the prejudices and inclinations of the host city. As a citizen myself, I’ve always considered the Festivals a huge boon that Edinburgh was astonishingly lucky to have essentially fall into its lap. Other cities have offered up their eye teeth in an attempt to ape Edinburgh’s good fortune here though it it also true that far too few citizens have managed to avail themselves of the opportunities the largest arts festival in the world can afford. Worse things happen to cities than tourism overload, however, and it certainly appears that plenty of local property owners are now taking as big a slice as they can manage. This phenomenon is having something of a global moment; I am not at all persuaded that a new tax provides any kind of a view towards a ‘solution’, in Edinburgh, on Skye, in Barcelona or anywhere else.

  5. Tom says:

    I took my usual walk with the dog across the Meadows this week, along by the Art School, into King’s Stables Road, only to find access to Princes Street Gardens blocked except through St Cuthbert’s graveyard. Our usual exit from the Gardens across the railway behind the bandstand, and up to The Mound, was also blocked.

    The west Gardens were a mess (and closed completely from 2.30pm on show days; that evening Tom Jones was to perform), full of temporary fish and chip shops and other retail/booze outlets, and an endless run of portable toilets on the main lower-level path both east and west of the bandstand. A huge, new temporary stage has been built in front of the bandstand (sorry, the Ross Theatre), ready for the show crowds who will have to stand (no collapsable chairs allowed. No umbrellas either, so good luck on a wet night). Apart from the impressively restored fountain (not sure about the colours though), one of the best garden landscapes in the world has been turned into a tacky fairground, and at a time of year when it ought to be looking it’s best, and not just for tourists, but for locals as well, like me and the dug.

    Even the Council thinks “West Princes Street Gardens is one of the most beautiful and celebrated city-centre green spaces, offering a backdrop unparalleled anywhere in the world”. What, beautiful and celebrated enough to fill it with chippies, beer tents, and portable loos at the height of the Festival?

    And all this is being done, not under a Tory local authority, but one which is SNP/Labour led.

    There is much to celebrate in Edinburgh at this time of year, and for me (for now) I wouldn’t be anywhere else. But Mike is right; the galloping commercialism is not just encouraged by our Council, but led by it, and it will be the ruin of our city and landscape, and our communities too.

    The evidence couldn’t be clearer. Nothing is sacred to our Council and its planners.

    Take a walk through Princes Street Gardens and weep.

    1. Scot Aristan says:

      You cannot blame the SNP for this fiasco – it started long ago in Red Tory Labour’s hands.

      1. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

        And carries on to this day with the SNP- Labour collusion, sorry coalition, administration. The situation in Edinburgh has been brought about by ALL the political parties operating to ensure their continuing grasp of power at any cost, even to the disintegration of the heart of a great city. This is NOT about party politics. This is about misuse and abuse of power, of corruption collusion and cowardice about maladministration, incompetence and downright fraud, about lying, ‘done deals’ with dodgy people and cover-ups. Political AND managerial. This is about a council gone rogue at its core driven by fear, greed and lack of integrity and vision professionally and politically. Ethically, morally and financially bankrupt.

  6. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

    Well done writing the narrative about the reality of being a citizen as opposed to being an itinerant traveller in Edinburgh. Other media have the story but haven’t got the courage to tell it. The truth is even nastier, murkier and much more dangerous for the future of Edinburgh and its ordinary citizens. We have local authority essentially gone rogue in the hands of a bunch of ghouls managing deals before they come into the public domain. We expect the commercial sector to do that, it’s in the nature of vultures to flock to a feast. What we shouldn’t have, but do, is a tiny number of ex public servants especially political colluding with current public servants, political and so called ‘professionals’ to pimp the heritage, culture and true value of the city. Time to call this out for what it is – pimping at the citizens’ expense. Tipping point has been breached.

  7. Julie says:

    I 100% agree with this article. I have lived nearly all my life here in city centre & find i feel like a tourist in my own town. I live eith a courtyard below me whom recieved a licencewithout consulting us residendent 7 days a week until 3am it has shows, lights, alcohol & hoards of people outide, at 6.25am the cleaners comd in & wheel trollys around while emptying their glass bottles into the bank… so we residents have 3hours 15mins sleep before we get ip for work/school … teachers tell the kids to have an early night huh! chances in town centre… i pay £120 council tax after my 25% single person reduction & feel im living in a filthy disney land… My 15 yr old child has’nt been to any show in festival as i cant afford it i myself hav’nt been to snything in years …. ive seen a fantastic community destroyed , mainly through greed , my hometown no loger feels like home. Yes it’s happening ALL over my beautiful country & things MUST be done to stop it & preserve the rights of local residents !

  8. w.b.robertson says:

    the few Scots still left living in our Capital city could consider a move. I suggest Glasgow!

  9. Look – this is what happened …

    Councillor Adam McVey (Leader of Edinburgh City Council, SNP Councillor for Leith):

    “This is public space & these are public views. Ticketed events cannot put up barriers which are to the detriment of the city.
    I’ve asked officers to remove ASAP & for a guarantee that these won’t be erected for any future events.”

    Result.

  10. florian albert says:

    Tourism in Edinburgh, and Scotland, is a success story. That said, increased and improved regulation – as Mike Small advocates – is needed.

    Who will do the regulating ?

    Immediately, problems arise. Local government has been reduced, by all parties over a period of decades, to local administration. In consequence, the calibre of person elected as a councillors is very unimpressive. This is especially so in Edinburgh which has a huge educated, professional population, which appears to have opted out of local politics.

    Further, the City of Edinburgh Council, as a result of the trams fiasco and the building repairs scandal, comes across as overwhelmingly passive.

    This means that there is little chance of the local council making the changes needed so that tourism benefits the city, rather than destroys it.

    1. Who will do the regulating? Presumably the elected bodies bound to do so? Not sure why this is some strange conundrum?

      1. florian albert says:

        Elected bodies are ‘bound’ to do the regulating.

        When an elected SNP councillor in Edinburgh suggested a tourist tax, an idea I think is worth trying, Fiona Hyslop immediately spoke out against the idea.

        When the elected council refused permission to developers wanting to build another huge block of student flats, on the site of the Homebase store on St Leonards Street, their opposition was over-turned. Homebase came down, the student flats went up.

        In these circumstances, who would to be an elected councillor ?

        1. Tim Keppie says:

          In relation to the student flats you mentioned at St Leonards, take a walk up South Clerk Street and count the amount of shops that have closed in the last year or so due to the impact of this building and others in the area for the benefit of this transient community. Local homeowners,have moved out of town in fear of anti social behaviour so nobody around during the day to support local businesses then supermarkets swamp the area,and put the final kill on all the small businesses.A once thriving community destroyed.I’m sick of it.Like many.Now Leith is being targeted.

  11. Christopher Weir says:

    I don’t have an issue with the barriers as I understand they are only temporary and there are plenty of places from the street to see the beautiful castle from. Also, outside of the Fringe, the streets really are not that clogged and I feel the article paints a false picture of Edinburgh. The fact of the matter is that people have the right to explore areas and tourism is one of Scotland’s biggest economic drivers- from my recent MBA assignment: ”over £11 billion a year brought in by tourists, creating over 340 000 jobs (amazing for a country with a population of only 5.2 million people”.
    I also vehemently disagree with the idea that there is an ‘endless parade of stag and hen parties…creating excess noise pollution”; I have even lived on the bloody Cowgate and didn’t find this to be the case! Also the whinge over wages; the UK as a whole has a pretty piss poor wage stagnation situation and it is not limited to Edinburgh. That said, one can live extremely well in Edinburgh on a mere £14 000, roughly what those working full-time on minimum wage get. Yes, there is a slowly growing problem with housing affordability, though this is partially offset by various measures the Scottish government have implemented. However, I fully agree that the people of Edinburgh need to be steadfast in preventing a toxic London-esque situation arising.
    But overall, I feel this author is talking out of his arse.

    1. Thanks Christopher – well I am doing nothing but reflecting the views of very well established Old Town Community groups who I will ask to reiterate these views. These are very real concerns and nothing to do with me ‘talking out of my arse’. Equally the Fair Fringe report is nothing to do with me, or my arse. Nor is it a ‘whinge’.

      I would love to see you MBA assignment, please email it to me.

    2. Malcolm Hutchinson says:

      What ‘reality’ are you living in??

    3. Liz Summerfield says:

      You must be very young, and not a long-time taxpaying resident who can’t afford to escape.

    4. Scot Aristan says:

      340,000 zero-hour, minimum wage slave jobs, you mean. And all those Billions go right in to the pockets of the corporate hotel and restaurant indistry – little of it sees it’s way to local residents.

      Who do you work for? This smacks of a PR agenda.

      Now, let’s talk about the herds of entitled students devouring every part fo the town like locusts the rest of the year.

    5. Wul says:

      “One can live “extremely well” on £14k in Edinburgh”

      How much will a family of 4 need? £56K?

      Did you pass your MBA assignment Christopher?

      This reminds me of the Tory MP’s who have a go at “living on benefits” and find it’s really quite easy. When you own property outright, have no rent or mortgage to pay, friends buy you lunch, your workplace provides subsidised food, you receive, rather than pay, interest on your bank balance, you have an allowance and gifts from parents, “expenses” for travel costs etc., then one finds that one needs very little actual cash.

      How come these ungrateful folk getting half the average wage can’t manage their money better?

      Good luck with your degree Chris.

      1. Blu tack says:

        A student who is on a scholarship and gets and allowance plus not being charged council tax is an exception for any city.
        £14,000 per year is defo not enough for Edinburgh and Christopher’s sum is clearly out of touch with reality. I agree with you Wul. Anyone paying tax and having a decent job is struggling to live in Edinburgh as we speak and rents have skyrocketed for the last few years.
        I like some of the Fringe but would be very happy if held every other year to be honest.

    6. Carol Laidlaw says:

      Live well on £14,000 a year? Nobody can ‘live well’ on that amount of money in my undeveloped medium-sized town in the north west of England, so nobody is going to be able to do it in Edinburgh, a capital city. I think it’s you who is talking out of the opposite end to your mouth.

  12. John Wilde says:

    As a one time resident from 1970 to 1980 of Edinburgh I saw the beginnings of this phenomena. One of the reasons I left the city for Glasgow was the wall to wall year round throngs of tourists. In the summer months, we art students who actually lived in the city, were made unwelcome in our usual Friday night drinking haunts in the city centre so as not to scare off the culturatti who descended in the festival weeks while undesirables were cleansed from public spaces like the Princes Street gardens. I myself worked at that time (1975, I think) on an art project with the participation artist Steve Willats which overcame the city centric focus of the festival and worked with actual residents in Silverknowes and Gorgie on an interactive (before social media) work which examined social mores and class differences across the city.
    Glasgow is now on this road of artwash and commandeering of public space with closures at Kelvingrove and George Square. The requisitioning of culture to the ends of capital has always been an issue with the Heritage, Tourism and Culture Industries as its avant garde destroying the very base it is built on.
    But perhaps we should also look to ourselves as consumers of this industries’ products and our readiness to imbibe these products when produced by other places.
    I don’t know the answer but you’re right – there is a problem!

  13. Alibi says:

    The problem with a tourist tax on hotel occupancy is it lends even greater financial advantage to the Air B n B model, which won’t be covered by the tax.

    Alternate year Festivals would make each Festival year an even greater draw and event. Not sure that works.

    One thing that would help would be to spread the Festival(s) around more geographically.

    1. That’s true – but not if it is also in place with regulation of AirBnB as os being proposed by Holyrood.

  14. SleepingDog says:

    If this kind of tourism is wrong in Edinburgh, is it wrong elsewhere too? If it is wrong elsewhere too, should we look at how Scottish people are involved there too? What is the Scottish tourism footprint on the world? Otherwise it smacks of hypocrisy to clean up Edinburgh while partying on abroad. Perhaps a global view on how sustainable such tourism is would put this in perspective.

  15. Scot Aristan says:

    This is ABSOLUTELY the Festival AND the Fringe, along with the snobby Book Festivals’ fault!

    You mention the “omnishambles” that is Creative Scotland – well have a deeper dig of their published spreadsheets… Millions of pounds handed over to the McFEstivals with no earmarks, rules or traces. Just the fact that Tim O’Shea – former king of Edinburgh University – one of the biggest benefactors of the McFEstivals – is now the head of the Fringe reeks of impropriety…

    And everyone is in one the take: any small show must pay between £400-1000 just to be listed in that ecological disaster that is the Fringe paper programme, and then they must guarantee the venue £1000s in subsidy just to perform. The venue “owners” take public Creative Scotland money, all the bar sales, and leave the performers destitute with an “I got to perform at the Fringe” sticker for their travel bag on the way home after being extorted and used.

    All the hype and circumstance of the Festivals: More, MORE, MORE!!! is killing the city. Who on earth can see 4000 shows? It’s ludicrous, and the best rub: it barely engages the locals. Talk about carpetbagging at its’ finest.

    Why aren;t hotels and businesses chipping in to a fund to improve things? They profit heavily off things they contribute nothing to.

    Why is Edinburgh Uni, et. al., the biggest institutions swimming in cash, allowed to take huge fees for renting properties that have ALREADY been publicly subsidised in many, many ways over many, many years??

  16. Monty says:

    You are never far away from an ugly crowd control barrier in Edinburgh. The council even has them all around the War Memorial at the City Chambers with a sign not to disrespect the war memorial as if these brutal barriers don’t already do that. What seems to be missing in Edinburgh is a real sense of history and community spirit at least as far as the councillors are concerned. Perhaps as we have so many national institutions the council don’t think they have to provide good public facilities and spaces for the locals. When they do have public spaces such as the Gardens they fill them with junk and close them off. The other big villain in Edinburgh is of course the University who have brutalised the city to fill their pockets for over half a century.

  17. Alice Polwarth says:

    Comedian Sean McLoughlin looks to be doing something to support local people while performing at the festival – found this on Facebook:
    TONIGHT IN EDINBURGH
    I’m hosting an amazing FREE charity gig for a local homeless charity with the best line-up in town:
    Ivo Graham
    Jen Brister
    Adam Hess
    Kiri Pritchard- McLean
    Stephen Bailey
    Evelyn Mok

    10PM start at Gothic Room at Three Sisters. Absolutely free entry, donations on the way out. Should be amazing

    Please share/spread the word!

  18. Tim Keppie says:

    Excellent article and very well written.I agree wholeheartedly with most of what is said however I fear time is of the essence.Many areas of Edinburgh are already neglected and have been badly damaged by suitable accommodation for the transient communities (tourists and students) thereby the local homeowners have sold up and moved out of town for fear of anti social behaviour.Many local businesses have closed due to a lack of a local community plus the over top moving in of major supermarket chains all desperate for a slice of the transient pound.Universities in the city are booming financially due to the crazy fees they can charge,however young couples looking to rent or buy a property in the city can’t afford one.The balance between the people of Edinburgh who contribute,all backgrounds and cultures,and the bending backwards to accommodate the transient community is completely out of hand and the balance needs to be readdressed towards those that chose to make Edinburgh their homes and have made it the place it is and the ones who are just passing through taking what they can from it then returning home.

  19. Susan Smith says:

    I was a student in Edinburgh from 1966 – 1970, so was one of the transients, and I stayed there as a post graduate from 1970 – 1974, when I lived in the city all year round. . Our accommodation was quite different from what it is now – I stayed in digs for my first two years – the landlady hosted festival and other visitors in the university holidays and for the rest of the time – in each of two flats in the same area for two years. That gave us time to be part of the community, and it was a great privilege. In those days there were also fewer off us and we weren’t all concentrated in one place, unless we were in halls of residence. Not many of them and they were away from the city centre. That city is long gone, and I’ve regarded Edinburgh as having sold it’s soul to tourism and destroying itself in the process. I seemed to be a lone voice, but now there are many others saying the same thing. It takes quite a lot to get me to go there these days. I should say to me Edinburgh is not unique – oher places in Scotland and elsewhere overrun with tourists. I will never see Venice or the Alhambra, for instance .

  20. Peter Gregson says:

    The only sensible thing here is a tourist tax, so that the city can extract £ from visitors to improve roads, pavements, housing, etc. And better planning laws, that return control to local politicians. (The Virgin hotel is a poor decision, though.) And there needs to be legislation controlling the number of Airbnbs .
    But really – the Fringe is an “anarcho-capitalist spectacle masquerading as art and it’s destroying the city it inhabits”? Well, I beg to differ. It’s just a month of frenzy that injects energy into the city – and one I frequently ignore – just go 1000 yards from Princes St and you’d never know it was on. If folk choose to live in the centre, they know what it will entail.. it’s been like this for 40 years.
    And it’s not a particular exploitation-fest- it just mirrors what is happening in the rest of society. Zero hours contracts clearly need to be banned, but nobody is ever forced to work in the arts – folk exploit themselves to do so and it has been ever thus. And I don’t agree that authorities need to get involved in judging the quality of this or that act; that’s what money was invented for. And challenging the ownership of key cultural venues and placing control in the hands of local artists and companies? My god, if listening to BBC Scotland isn’t enough to put you off that one! That really would kill the Fringe stone dead

    1. It’s an interesting notion that local artists and companies can be equated with the often dire output of BBC Radio Scotland. What an extraordinary idea.

      I also love the idea that money was invented to judge the quality of things. Marvelous.

    2. Wul says:

      …”folk exploit themselves…”

      Aye, why do they keep doing that? Weird.

Keep our Journalism Independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address to subscribe for free here and receive Bella direct to your inbox.

 
Bella Caledonia