On Wednesday 22nd January, 2020, more than 700 people attended a public meeting titled “City for Sale: The Commodification of Edinburgh’s Public Spaces” in Central Hall, Edinburgh. Organised by the Cockburn Association, this event was the outcome of controversy developing over several months caused by the use of Princes Street Garden for Christmas Markets and Hogmanay celebrations, and their management by the private company Underbelly
The meeting was chaired by BBC broadcaster Stephen Jardine, with various presentations exploring the links between the design of events in public space and issues of sustainability, health and well-being, and common good land. One of the speakers was Prof. David McGillivray, CCSE’s Deputy Director and project leader of the FESTSPACE research project. Prof. McGillivray, in a presentation co-written with Dr Andrew Smith, University of Westminster, put the Edinburgh controversy in the context of a broader debate about privatization of public spaces. Talks were followed by a discussion with attendees, who expressed various concerns about the current management of events in Edinburgh’s public spaces, including the accessibility of public space during the event’s period, the lack of tangible legacy from Edinburgh festivals on the city’s infrastructure, and the necessity of finding a balance between the needs of tourists and residents. The outcomes of the discussion are being collated by the Cockburn Association who will use them to produce a response and plan of action that will be delivered to Edinburgh City Council.