If I told you that a six-pronged metallic octopus was growing where the St. James Centre ought to be, would you believe me? Would the daydream of another creature the size of Arthur’s Seat occupying Scotland’s capital city ease its way into the collective consciousness without much fuss? If we were to accept either this benevolent metallic octopus or the threat of ending up like Disneyworld, which would we choose?
A man named Gordon Robertson — chief of an organization called Marketing Edinburgh — recently gave a speech more or less in defense of the potential ‘Disneyfication’ of Edinburgh, and I wanted to take a second to go through some of what he said: beyond a disappointing misread of Jarvis Cocker’s “Common People,” which should have been an early enough warning for plenty, Robertson writes —
‘The word “disneyfication” has been bandied about as a critique of the way Edinburgh is headed.
Having been in Disney this year with my family, I’m not so sure Disneyfication is a bad thing? At least they’ve invested in their sites, they have a plan, it provides thousands of jobs, their well-trained staff provide a fantastic experience and they’re extremely profitable which is used to invest back into the product.’
It’s difficult to know where to begin with a statement like this.
For one: an extremely profitable company doesn’t mean that the jobs that come with that company are good jobs in and of themselves — that they’re guaranteed, pay well, and reflect an investment in the community itself.
Secondly: it’s noteworthy that Robertson actually enjoyed himself at Disneyland. Disneyland can be a vertiginous corporate experience with the experience of waiting in lines significantly outpacing the enjoyment of the actual experience itself.
Third: the jobs that are linked to a place like Disney aren’t always the best jobs either — I used to drive a cab for a living, and a fairly regular part of the gig fell to my dropping families and tourists off at a nearby theme park, and — at the end of the day — it’s debatable as to whether or not the job was worth it.
Robertson continued —
“Those that rail against disneyfication and are generally down on Edinburgh’s increasing popularity seem to want us not to develop, to be preserved in aspic.”
I don’t know if that’s the point: I think the problem is that those who defend Disneyfication can’t see a world in which development and money aren’t so inexorably linked together at different points that the negative effects of Disneyfication and the lack of creativity in dealing with the negative effects end up creating disappointment, displeasure, and resistance.
What am I talking about in terms of a lack of imagination? Consider the beginning of this story from GeekWire —
The popcorn smell is gone. There are no posters advertising new indie flicks. But good portions of the charm and character that made the old Harvard Exit movie theater in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood a special place have been retained, and it can be home to anyone looking to work out of the historic location.
Robertson again —
How have we in this great industry allowed others to push this tourism bad narrative and lose the battle of demonstrating the benefits that tourism brings to this city?
Again: it isn’t that tourism is bad; it’s a question of people letting money do whatever it wants, however it wants, and not knowing how to de-couple thinking about this free-flow of capital from the various things it links up with — like tourism, development, gentrification, and so on.
So it’s encouraging to see Robertson pose the question as to what all this means “to the resident with 4 air bnb flats on their stair […] or the commuter stuck in traffic,” but there’s so much ‘Managerial Speak’ in his speech that it doesn’t seem reasonable to necessarily feel encouraged one way or the other just yet.