IHBC 2020 Yearbook

28 Y E A R B O O K 2 0 2 0 The power of the historic environment is tightly bound to the residents’ identity and sense of place as well as to the tourists’ attraction and the local economy. This makes for an inevitably tricky management situation. It places heavy responsibilities on the shoulders of all stakeholders, whether or not they realise it. The success of any solution therefore depends on the art of compromise; the ability to engage in open, challenging and respectful debate; and the recognition of rapidly changing drivers for change and development in the worlds of every stakeholder. The infrastructure which can provide an arena for these debates and considerations is often not well developed – even in the UK. This can result in the media filling the vacuum as competing stakeholder groups paint a picture of heroes and villains (residents versus the public authorities or the tourism industry), or innovators and reactionaries (businesses and developers versus local pressure groups). Sloppy reporting conflates different issues and mixes root causes of problems with generalisations and poor hard evidence. This approach may be great for selling newspapers or for generally stoking action and indignant comment, but it serves these locations badly, and ultimately puts a brake on effective policy development and meaningful creative relationship building. Edinburgh has been a prime case over the course of 2019–20, as debates on the future of both the tourism industry and city has led to conflict over high-profile building developments, community resentment over the explosion of AirBnB tenants and criticism over how events held in public open spaces were being managed. Blame is a concept associated with the historic built environment of the city – not particularly as a result of the way it is managed, but more in the fact that it is the victim of its own success, as the city has retained its historic environment so well that this is itself the cause of problems in managing the city. Edinburgh (like Amsterdam and all the other cities mentioned previously) provides a wonderful built environment: a physical palette combined with a living economic and social context. The historic environment is the unique ingredient which draws people to it to live, work and play; but its quality and form also sets parameters for the way in which that liveability, work and play can exist and develop. The challenge with the historic environment is that while it often is that unique ingredient that provides a place’s inherent quality and attractiveness, it is both a visible and invisible component in our perception. It can include the special and iconic, which when altered or threatened is immediately in the public consciousness, and at the same time it can also include the invisible and everyday, the backdrop against which city life goes on without special notice, and which gets overlooked until damage is caused. Stakeholders often blame the historic environment for a city’s problems. As the Leader of Visitors competing for space in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile (top), but this is not the whole picture, and residential and business communities enjoy quiet corners across the city (below) (Both photos: Eleanor Baxter)