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Edinburgh World Heritage/Twelve Closes

Changing dilapidated, neglected closes into useful routes

John Thompson - Old Town Community Council

Twelve Closes

    The 12 Closes

    The 12 Closes is an exciting and challenging urban renewal initiative to enhance and improve twelve of Edinburgh’s historic pedestrian streets running off the Royal Mile.

    Partners:

    Improving and enhancing

    The closes of the Old Town

    Twelve Closes is an exciting and challenging urban renewal initiative to enhance and improve twelve of Edinburgh’s historic pedestrian streets running off the Royal Mile. The project, launched in 2015, puts the communities who live and work in the closes at the heart of the improvements. The project will be delivered in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh Napier University.

    Why the closes?

    The project was designed in response to the condition of many of the closes in the Old Town. These steep, narrow, alleyways are a critical feature of the city’s character and inform the designation of Edinburgh’s urban core as a World Heritage Site.

    The medieval development of the city included the street pattern that can be observed today, one that is often described as resembling the bones of a fish, with the Royal Mile as the spine. These through-routes provide excellent pedestrian links across the Old Town. However, they are often perceived as smelly, dirty and unsafe – and that is if they are known about. This project will make improvements to the closes to encourage awareness and exploration of the Old Town beyond the main street and create a sense of custodianship for the closes by local businesses and residents.

    Edgar’s map of Edinburgh reveals the fishbone-like pattern of its closes, courts and wynds. See more maps here.

    Small changes, big impact

    The project aims to make the closes more interesting, attractive and visible, increasing footfall which will in turn will make feel them safer and less prone to anti-social activity.

    Tangible solutions such as creative lighting, interpretation and artwork will help to reveal the incredible history and fascinating stories contained within the closes. The project will also identify any management issues associated with each close, such as poor signage and waste management, and consider how any new interventions could help mitigate them.

    Working together in partnership

    We work with the School of Creative Industries from Edinburgh Napier University to deliver community workshops for each of the closes. These workshops generate debate about the current state of the close and what enhancement may be desirable to enhance the spaces. Participants are encouraged to think about the history and development of the close and how it could inspire lighting and artistic interventions. Edinburgh Napier University first draw up proposals, which are then developed and refined through consultation. Once the final design has been agreed, a schedule and specification is drawn up by the University.

    The City of Edinburgh Council, as custodian of the public realm, is a crucial partner. They lead on the clean-up of the closes, the installation of any new features or artwork and will take responsibility for management and maintenance thereafter. The council’s Street Lighting team help progress lighting specifications by designing the electrical circuits, procuring the fittings and installing the interventions in the closes.

    Outcomes

    The project intends to create a template for future co-design public realm projects, engaging people with the city’s outstanding historic built environment and enabling them to have a say in how design is used to improve their local area. The design solutions must be attractive and understandable and enhance the essential character of the closes. This approach is critical to the successful management of the World Heritage Site.

    The 12 Closes

    The project in numbers

    73

    Closes and wynds along Royal Mile

    323

    people living in Bakehouse House, 1851

    1210 A.D.

    Oldest record of Stevenlaw's close

    Co-design workshops

    See some of the proposed lighting solutions for the closes.

    “We hope that this project will re-connect the closes of the Old Town with the people of Edinburgh. The intricate network of closes and courtyards that bind the Old Town together gives it a unique identity, which should be celebrated and used by all.”

    Adam Wilkinson

    Director – Edinburgh World Heritage

    Twelve Closes

    Project progress

    The closes that have been identified for inclusion in the project are: Chessels Court, Carrubbers Close and Stevenlaws Close (2018-19); Fountain Close, Riddles Close and Fleshmarket Close (2019-20); Trunks Close, Bakehouse Close and Crightons Close (2020); and Lady Stairs Close/Wardrops Court, North Grays Close and Old Playhouse Close (2021). Keep an eye on our blog for the latest updates.


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