On the Urban Realm website last week, project architect Allan Murray described the new St James Quarter’s curved galleria as ‘no different to the baroque geometry of the New Town’.
Sculptors and architects are prone to such flights. The suggestion was summarily dismissed in the comments thread afterwards.
Murray also claimed that, ‘This is in the liminal space between the formal geometries of the New Town and the happenstance messiness of the Old Town. It’s got a leg in both parts. We wanted to recognise that it merges the two.’
For many interested in architecture, that seems far-fetched. For those interested in geography, a look at Google Maps confirms the development in no way straddles the Old and New Towns. Those who remember the capital’s UNESCO World Heritage designation also know that the distinction between Old and New is a key attribute of Edinburgh’s Outstanding Universal Value. It is not something needing a good shoogle.
This observer is not hostile to the St James Quarter. I don’t miss what was here before. I welcome the new development’s potential to drive economic growth, and to improve the career prospects of locals … particularly young locals. There are many design and some retail aspects of the development I enjoy. The buzz of excitement they’ve created is a genuine pleasure.
And while it may stick out like a sore thumb just now, it’s possible that with careful and generous-minded management – an inclusive approach to who trades, performs, and displays here at what cost – the development may yet come to embody a recognisable, authentic, and loveable face of the capital.
Perhaps one day it may even serve as a gateway between the city centre on one side and Broughton Street, Leith Walk and the myriad independent retail delights beyond on the other; an semicolon rather than a full stop.
But before we get lost in such fond imaginings, let’s consider what Murray said next. ‘It's nothing to do with a shopping mall,’ he claimed loftily. ‘It’s creating a new space in the city.’
New space in the city sounds pleasant enough – like a gift, like an extension of our civic whole. And yet, and yet … it's nonsense. The phrase forms part of a corporate place-making script that seeks to disguise its own presence.
It’s the same script from which Martin Perry, Director of Development, quoted in a promotional video last month. The one in which he claimed to have banned the term ‘shopping centre’ among colleagues since the St James complex is no mere retail opportunity but a vibrant new quarter for the city.
Tosh. Any fool can see it’s mostly shops and parking spaces on a grand scale. And even after the opening of more restaurants, an arts cinema, hotels, and discrete residential levels to which few of us will ever be admitted, it will continue to be mostly shops and parking spaces for the foreseeable future.
Real quarters don't need frock-coated ‘ambassadors’. Real quarters don’t post signs like that below, which passers-by will seldom notice let alone read.
Enough of these chameleon capers. Let’s call a shopping mall a shopping mall and appreciate it for what it is.—AM
Got a view? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org and @theSpurtle
That link in full: https://www.broughtonspurtle.org.uk/sites/default/files/spurtle_188.pdf