Christmas market helps turn Edinburgh into theme park '“ Stephen Jardine
Here we go again. It may be two months until the big day but Christmas is already taking shape in the centre of Edinburgh.
It gets a little earlier each year. There was a time when Remembrance weekend marked the start of the transformation. After the red crosses were removed from Princes Street Gardens, the gingerbread houses of the Christmas Market started to appear.
A few years ago, the Garden of Remembrance moved to allow for construction of a funfair ride but still not much happened before Halloween. Now the last week of October marks the start of the relentless commercialisation of the city centre. Is it a coincidence that the felling of trees in Princes Street Gardens was done just in time to create extra space for the Christmas market? It certainly seems convenient.
But there is a more fundamental question facing anyone who lives in Scotland’s capital city. What’s it all for?
Edinburgh council will say it is for the benefit of locals and visitors but how do they know that? While the extension of the tram line to Newhaven seems to require endless consultation, who knows what the people of Edinburgh want the city centre to be?
Some people might want it to be an entertainment theme park with non-stop festivals and endless opportunities to eat and drink. Others might just want it to be a place where people can live, work and shop unhindered. The point is, it would be nice to be asked. At the centre of it all is the Edinburgh Festival. For the month of August, the city becomes a stage and that is a wonderful thing.
But the reward for putting up with all the congestion and disruption was traditionally 11 months of relative normality. Not any more. Nowadays Edinburgh’s Christmas consists of weeks of commercialisation with pop-up stalls where you can buy everything from sugar mice to wooden toys but mostly it is about selling booze.
Edinburgh now has 12 festivals scattered across the calendar. The one gap that remained was after Hogmanay but even that is now being plugged by a new Burns Festival at the end of January which aims to attract thousands of participants to the city centre. That will make 13 festivals across the year. Unlucky for some.
While Edinburgh grows its reputation as a playground, the city centre population is falling as more and more inhabitants decide they cannot stand the endless disruption. Instead the city now has 9,000 short-term let properties listed on Airbnb.
The row over fencing being erected around Princes Street Gardens for a concert this summer showed that increasing commercialisation and free access to the public realm is an increasing area of conflict.
As one of the fastest growing cities in the UK, Edinburgh needs to decide how it wants the future to be. If we want the city to be a stage for non-stop commercial events, we are going about it the right way.
But if we want it to be a real living and working city for local people, we need to halt the race to make money from every space every month of the year.