Elspeth Wills, Grassmarket resident and Chair of the Grassmarket Residents’ Association and member of the committee of the Old Town Community Council responds to the idea of ‘open air cafes’ as a response to coronavirus.
While the idea of open air cafes may have some merit (‘Recreating the cafe street scene’ – Is this the way for Edinburgh’s cafes and restaurants to reopen while maintaining social distancing?‘), it raises more questions than answers. The emergency has had its upside. The shrinking number of residents in the city centre are enjoying undisturbed sleep, uncluttered pavements and sharing their lives with nature. Why is it that not only nature but the tourism industry abhors a vacuum and seeks to cram any public space with commercial activity? Has the message about leaving Princes Street Gardens as a peaceful heartland still not got across after the fiasco of the Christmas Market and the Quaich Project’s plans.
As for the Grassmarket and the Royal Mile, in recent years they have been fingered as places for visitors to have unrelenting fun, fun, fun. Now is the time for the authorities to reassess priorities and whether their aim is to have a World Heritage site devoid of local people. Opening outdoor cafes seems to be a step back to the same old over-tourism which has carved such a great hole in the city centre.
There are also the practicalities to consider. The Grassmarket has no longer any public toilets meaning a return to unsavoury peeing and worse up closes. The idea of extending the hours to midnight is simply unacceptable: the community has battled for years to make the area a more family friendly space. How would the system be policed, by whom with what powers? The idea may be worth testing but why not in Corstorphine or Morningside?