Prof Blasts City: A Correction

The Scotsman’s take on my Times Higher piece on Edinburgh produced some loud guffaws this morning. http://m.scotsman.com/news/scotland/top-stories/academic-blasts-edinburgh-s-modern-buildings-1-3335514

In the original piece, I wrote (as I have often done previously) that the Scottish capital is a weird case of arrested development. There’s very little to show for the oceans of money that have washed through the city in the last decade, and little sense of a plan. It’s oddly out of step with the political reality of a city that could well soon be the capital of an independent state. Whatever happens in September 2014, Edinburgh’s political status is assured. It will get more power. But on the ground, it’s timid and risk-averse, the very opposite of what you might expect. Anyway, you can read the piece here: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/culture/edinburghs-arrested-development/2011724.article

Brian Ferguson’s Scotsman piece paints me as the mouthpiece of the heritage lobby: I ‘blast’ modern development, excoriating the university’s George Square and the proposed Caltongate project.

It’s flattering, as always, get the attention. But I should probably make a few things clear:
(1) I’m temperamentally about as far from the heritage lobby as you can get. I’d happily demolish the New Town tomorrow; (2) I think cities are processes, not monuments, and to believe otherwise is just silly; (3) Edinburgh’s obsession with its past is terrible; (4) its most reviled modern buildings are actually some of its most interesting. Everyone says they hate the St James’s Centre, but I’ve spent many happy hours pottering around its recesses. Brutal and impolite, it has a straightforwardness I much prefer these days to the phoney openness of the Parliament. It also works.

The Scotsman’s take was the usual one, and unsurprising. And – much to my amusement – it actually confirmed my original argument. I wrote that Edinburgh couldn’t deal with the modern, and right on cue, here was an article that said just that.

The problem is that I was enlisted into this anti-modern argument. On a personal level, I don’t mind at all – it’s good knockabout fun and grist to the mill. But it represents just about the opposite of what I actually think.

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