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 is being delivered in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh Napier University.
Edinburgh World Heritage receives part of its funding from Historic Environment Scotland which enables us to support our projects.
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 makes 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.
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 help to reveal the incredible history and fascinating stories contained within the closes. The project also identifies 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.
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.