29 August 2013

Dr Stephen Harwood, having conducted an annual audit of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh since 2011, has hit the headlines after proclaiming the street has been taken over with shops selling luxury wool garments, creating a certain blandness and leading to a loss of identity.
Harwood on Royal Mile - image of Business School

“Place is an occupied space. Those currently occupying the place inherit that which is passed on – it’s heritage. They are guardians of the place. However, what goes on in the place?  The ‘quick buck’, selling anything and everything, or a concern to pass on to the next generation something that has meaning and significance.”

Dr Harwood, based in the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Group at the Business School, revealed in his 111-page survey that there was ‘more of the same’ retailers offering tourist souvenirs although keepsakes were improving in quality and authenticity. Seven outlets selling woollen goods including cashmere, had opened on the Royal Mile in the last year at the expense of two newsagents, a grocers, an antiques shop, two charity shops and a musical instruments shop.

Dr Harwood argues that there is definitely an overall improvement in terms of merchandise but this is coming at the cost of sameness.

“I wonder whether there is thought given to what is being sold – whether there is an emphasis on making a quick buck – or if there’s a desire to ensure they reflect heritage?”

This is a study that started in 2011 with Dr Dahlia El-Manstrly, which focuses upon the Royal Mile, with a spin off project with the School of History, Classics & Archaeology in 2012 that examines cultural heritage and ‘place-making’, with a broader focus upon the Edinburgh World Heritage site. Underpinning these studies is concern about what makes a place and what makes it authentic. The project has taken into account the perspectives of tourists, cultural institutions and business interests.