The Edinburgh Festival is suffocating a once great city

No idea. Image: Getty.

It is August, meaning Edinburgh’s festival season is now in full swing. The city’s population more than doubles this month as millions of tourists and tens of thousands of performers descend upon the Scottish capital for the thousands of unique shows on offer. Around 3 million tickets were sold for last year’s Fringe alone, not counting the many other simultaneously occurring festivals.

The celebrations began as a radical freewheeling experiment to promote postwar international solidarity, attempting to bring creative people from around the globe together. Yet it has slowly become corporatszed to the point where a handful of companies with questionable ethical practices, such as Underbelly, have come to dominate, setting the terms and conditions of the Festival, making giant fortunes in the process, even as entertainers lose money.

Putting on a show is generally a losing proposition for artists and even some smaller venues. There are many horror stories; for instance, comedian Barry Fearns revealed how performing at the Festival left him £35,000 in debt and eventually bankrupt. Even selling out a venue does not ensure breaking even. Yet creative people from all over the world continue to come in the hopes of being spotted and breaking into the big time.

While these companies may argue they bring benefits to the local economy in the form of hospitality jobs, surprisingly few of the Festival’s workers are actually being paid, and must toil under “shameful” conditions and are “expected to work to the point of exhaustion”, according to a recent report. The people pulling those £6 pints at 2a.m. may not be even being paid for it. Someone is profiting greatly, but it is evidently not the workers or performers.


Nor is it the residents, who have seen their city simultaneously cheapened and become more expensive due to overtourism. Cut-price chain hotels have controversially set up new breezeblock buildings in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage site. There are now over 10,000 AirBnB properties in the relatively small city, four times the concentration of London or Paris. These are primarily located in the historic city centre, as landlords have realised it is far more profitable to gouge tourists and performers than rent to locals. An under-regulated buy-to-let market allows companies to snap up properties as soon as they come on the market knowing they can make huge profits on AirBnB. As a result Edinburgh’s house prices and rents have ballooned as rich tourists in short-term rentals crowd locals out. Those that work in the city are forced out of town to buy or tread water paying increasingly higher rents.

Conservation groups have warned that the Old Town is becoming a “tourist ghetto”; the avalanche of indistinguishable cheap touristic “tartan tat” shops compound the problem and make it extremely difficult to live there permanently. Performers too, fear rising rents are threatening the Fringe’s future and turning it into an elitist event.

Furthermore, the big festival giants have been allowed to privatise or seal-off many of Edinburgh’s most iconic and picturesque parks or public areas for profit. George Square, Bristo Square, Castlehill, Charlotte Square and parts of the Meadows are all cordoned off throughout August. Local Old Town residents are continually forced into pleading with lines of surly, newly arrived G4S security guards just for access to the streets where they live or work.

Worse still, it often takes until the following spring for the grass surfaces to be relayed and recover from the pounding that turns the beautiful spaces into something resembling a particularly wet Glastonbury. The Festival also puts undue strain on public services and leaves the city covered with litter for days or even weeks afterwards. Comfortably profiting, the corporate giants leave the party, leaving the locals to deal with the collective hangover in September.

The Festival is still a unique, magical event that brings people from all over the world to Scotland’s capital. However, the slow creep of corporations branding and monetising aspects of it is eating it from within. The rampant profiteering is also suffocating the city, negatively impacting year round residents.

Venice was turned into a lifeless museum city through unregulated free-for-all tourism. We must not allow the same thing to happen to Edinburgh. 

Alan MacLeod (@AlanRMacLeod) is an Edinburgh native and a journalist at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.