I am hugely proud that Edinburgh attracts tourists from around the world. Part of what attracts them to our city is our fantastic green spaces. Everything from Holyrood Park and West Princes Street Gardens to the many more humble public parks (like those in my Ward) are part of why Country Living recently awarded Edinburgh the status of the UK’s “Greenest City” .
That’s why I was so concerned to read that Glasgow’s DF Concerts thinks Princes Street Gardens could become “Scotland’s answer to the Hollywood Bowl” and urged Edinburgh to look at New York’s Central Park because it has “loads of events”, saying cities like Edinburgh need to “utilise their assets” better.
The basis of this approach appears to be that West Princes Street Gardens is a commodity which should again be encircled by barriers so it can be exploited. If this is the approach, it shows no awareness of the history of Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens.
In the early 19th century West Princes Street Gardens was accessed by subscription only, and was only open to the general public for free two days per year. In 1876 the city took ownership of the gardens for the public to use free of charge.
These gardens and their position below Edinburgh Castle are part of what defines our capital. No other city would contemplate converting this to a “Hollywood Bowl”, so why should we? Would such a thing be contemplated on Washington’s National Mall or Paris’s Parc du Champ-de-Mars? Events have a place on these spaces, but first and foremost they are there for the public to enjoy.
Indeed, comparing West Princes Street Gardens to the Hollywood Bowl and Central Park is misleading. Hollywood Bowl is actually in the hills outside Hollywood, and events take up a tiny part of Central Park’s 315 hectares (West Princes Street Gardens can fit in to it 26 times).
I agree that cities like Edinburgh need to “utilise their assets” more, but I also feel that we have to value our public spaces more and not forget the rich inheritance our city ancestors gave us.