Proposed Public SquareAfter working for Edinburgh Council for a year the city and its impressive architectural and historic heritage stole a place in my heart and enlightened me to the importance of heritage and conservation when considering new and future development.

This post therefore offers an introduction into why conservation of heritage assets is important, the introduction of world-wide measures to acknowledge and protect heritage assets and poses the question of how can we develop and redevelop areas whilst taking into account heritage. The post then explores a case study of a recent regeneration project in the centre of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site.

The first question is why do we conserve and protect heritage assets? The answer to this question is not particularly simple, for example Boyd et al state that “heritage is a complex and highly political phenomenon” (2006, pg. 2). However, there are arguments that “conservation ultimately benefits society (Teutonico and Palumbo, 2000).

One way in which conservation can be argued to be integral to the needs of our society is that it impacts upon our identity, the identity of a place, a street, a city or a country as a whole. Teutonico and Palumbo comment that “the physical products and remains of our past serve as an important reminder of where we come from, who we are and what we want to be” (2000, pg. 13).

It must be acknowledged that there a number of stakeholders who are integral to the process of conserving heritage assets and can involve a variety of people and that all stakeholders should feel empowered to make contributions to this heritage (Boyd et al, 2006). One of the processes to conserve heritage through stakeholder involvement was the adoption of the Venice Charter in 1964.

This Charter provides “conservation guidelines in the form of charters, recommendations and resolutions that have been introduced and adopted by international organisations such as UNESCO and ICOMOS” (Ahmad, 2006, pg. 292). Ahmed goes further, explaining that the main objective of these documents is with the focus of “protecting cultural property, which includes historical monuments, buildings, groups of buildings, sites and towns around the globe, against various threats” (2006, pg. 292).

Nasser comments that a “dichotomy exists between preserving the past for its intrinsic value and the need for development in response to changing societal values” (2003, pg. 468). Therefore, it is acknowledged development proposals will continue to come forward, but the question is how urban designers and other built environment professionals can create proposals that meet the needs of developers and society today whilst preserving the valuable past?

I now wish to explore a case study of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Edinburgh is known world-wide for its World Heritage Site comprised of the Old and New Towns and is also home to events such as the Fringe Festival which occurs in tandem with other festivals throughout the month of August and the celebration of Hogmanay which combined attract millions of people to Edinburgh during these periods.

The site in question was a prime opportunity for redevelopment on a derelict 5 acre site of a former bus station in the city centre.  The developer put forward proposals, formerly known Caltongate, rebranded as New Waverley to regenerate and redevelop the area.

The final proposals for the site comprised £150 million leisure, retail and office development covering a total area of around 220,000 sqft built on a derelict five-acre gap site central Edinburgh. A significant feature of the scheme was a new civic square estimated to be £6.5 million and the re-opening of the C listed Waverley Arches, shown below.Waverley Arches Proposed Redevelopment

The redevelopment of the Waverley Arches is undoubtedly positive, as their redevelopment in terms of urban design on this part of the street will see increased pedestrian footfall and the opening up of a currently blank canvas which will contribute to the vitality of the street scene.

However, the addition of a large, open civic square within the development was not a positive addition to the scheme.Whilst large civic squares are atypical in many European countries, Edinburgh’s Old Town’s street pattern consists of small ‘wynds’ and dense, closely-related buildings. Whilst the concept is to increase pedestrian movement and to encourage people to use the space more, this is in direct contrast to the s architectural and historical significance of the site, and is more akin to the development principles of the New Town.

This case study therefore highlights that urban designers and developers need to understand and should reflect the character of places before submitting proposals, particularly if they are located in an area such as Edinburgh, where historical and architectural significance are integral to the appeal and attractiveness of the city.

References

Ahmad, Y. (2006), ‘The Scope and Definitions of Heritage: From Tangible to Intangible’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol.12, No. 3, pp. 292-300

Dallen, J., Boyd, T & Boyd, S. (2006), ‘Heritage Tourism in the 21st Century: Valued Traditions and New Perspectives’, Journal of Heritage Tourism, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 1-16

Teutonico,  J,M. & Palumbo, G. (2000), ‘Management Planning for Archaeological Sites’, The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles.

Mittler D. (2002) ‘The perils of growth and decline Sustainable Development in Edinburgh and Wuppertal (Germany),’ in Thornley, A. and Rydin, Y. (eds).  A Global Era in Planning, Ashgate, Aldershot

Nasser, N. (2003), ‘Planning for Urban Heritage Places: Reconciling Conservation, Tourism, and Sustainable Development’, Journal of Planning Literature, Vol.17 No. 4, pp.467-479

Top photograph- New Waverley development source: http://www.rettie.co.uk/property-for-sale/edinburgh/edinburgh-city-centre/canongate/LAD130049-development-investment-new-street

Bottom photograph- Waverley Arches redevelopment source: http://www.edinburghpalette.co.uk/retail-opportunities-arches-vaults-new-waverley/