Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Director's Notes - April 2011

Monthly update from EWH Director Adam Wilkinson.

Apr 18, 2011

The return of Charles II to his plinth, fully restored, is a most satisfying conclusion to a wonderful project. For a fleeting moment, he might have returned guilded, though the evidence of this was lacking, and so my blingtastic dreams have not, this time, come to fruition. But what brought this seemingly gauche notion into my head in the first place? Visit Parliament Square at the weekend and you can appreciate the statue in its setting. Visit it during the week, and he sits in the middle of that most mundane of things, a car park. This is how we treat our public spaces. Resplendent in gold, it would be an embarrasment to park your car under him.

Simple acts such as this have the potential to radically transform space. On my walk to and from work, I pass through the magnificent set piece of Waterloo Place, with its pair of handsome pavilions framing the view to Calton Hill. In front of this view, in the space framed by Register House and the Balmoral Hotel are five lanes of traffic, one more than the M8.

A simple act of nature, however, has transformed the way this space is used. Winter has left the carriageway with a rather large pothole, which is now surrounded with a mass of barriers and signs diverting the traffic around it. One of the five lanes is out of action, yet the traffic flows without disruption around the obstacle. So why not reduce the road space by one lane, and extend the public space?

The more I've looked at the roads in the city centre, the more obvious this is. The area around Picardy Place has between five to seven lanes in the road, depending on which direction you approach it from. South Bridge, with its narrow pavements, has five lanes at some points, Charlotte Square has between three and five. Pedestrians, meanwhile, are herded like cattle through pens at crossing points and cyclists have to share space with buses.

Acres of public space in the heart of one of the most beautiful cities in the world await reclaimation from the internal combustion engine. Think how a pair of bollards on the northern carriageway of George Street might change the character of that space. At the other extreme of simple alterations to our spaces, think how careful lighting might lead tourists off the Royal Mile and help them explore the rest of the city. Or for that matter, what happens when you let loose over 12,000 plastic balls at the top of an historic close to mark World Heritage Day. The world remains our oyster.

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