UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network |Part 1| Edinburgh City of Literature

Edinburgh City of Literature (designated in 2004)

We would like to introduce this first article in a new series of articles about UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network to appear here on the Place Management and Branding blog. The Network aims at developing international cooperation among cities and encouraging them to drive joint development partnerships in line with UNESCO’s global priorities of “culture and development” and “sustainable development”.  This first-of-two articles written by Kenneth Wardrop discusses the origin and goals of the UNESCO initiative and examines Scotland’s Edinburgh as a City of Literature:

Guest Article by Kenneth Wardrop

Scotland is I believe unique in having two cities in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network – Edinburgh City of Literature (designated in 2004) and Glasgow City of Music (designated in 2008). Traditionally there has been a friendly rivalry between the two cities which are only eighty kilometers apart, with Glasgow being the bigger of the two cities with a population of 593,000 while Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, has a population of 449,000.  In reality the two cities greatly compliment one another Edinburgh with its UNESCO World Heritage architecture (mostly medieval and Georgian), vibrant festival scene, slight reserve, reputation for its intellectual capital, and understated elegance, and Glasgow with its Victorian architecture, heart on its sleeve chutzpah (maybe even a wee bit of ‘bling’), gritty industrial legacy, edginess, and dynamism.

The Creative Cities Network arose out of  the Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity initiative, established by UNESCO in 2002, with the Creative Cities Network being launched in October 2004. It is designed to promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world. The cities which apply to the network seek to promote their local creative scene; they share interest in UNESCO’s mission towards cultural diversity. There are currently over twenty cities from all regions of the world waiting to be evaluated to join the Creative Cities Network. The designation covers cities of literature, film, music, crafts & folk art, design, media arts, and gastronomy.

An aspiration by UNESCO of the Creative Cities designation and network is “the creation of public – private partnerships that help unlock the entrepreneurial and creative potential of small enterprises, which play an important role in the new economy. To underpin their development, small creative businesses also need innovative talent, and therefore cities with strong contemporary art, fashion, craft, music and design schools are most likely to flourish.”

A key objective identified by UNESCO for the network include: sharing experiences and creating new opportunities for the city and others on a global platform, notably for activities based on the notion of creative tourism.  I believe that Edinburgh and Glasgow are making good progress on these objectives especially in relation to cultural (or creative) tourism.

For Scotland the UNESCO Creative Cities recognition for Glasgow and Edinburgh rightly recognises their distinct cultural assets.  Edinburgh has a rich heritage of authors including J K Rowling (of Harry Potter fame), Ian Rankin (Inspector Rebus), Robert Burns (Scotland’s National Poet), Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louise Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to name but a few. Edinburgh’s city centre skyline is dominated by the Scott Monument and the city’s main railway station – Waverley is named after one of Scott’s most famous novels. The city has a history as a centre of the publishing industry (sadly not as vibrant as it was in the past). While the Edinburgh International Book Festival is one of the world’s most preeminent literary events.

Edinburgh was the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, was awarded the title in 2004 in recognition of its literary heritage, vibrant contemporary scene and aspirations for its future.The city is part of a group of  five global literary cities including: Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, and most recently Reykjavik.


The following list of criteria and characteristics serves as a guide for cities interested in joining the network as a City of Literature:

  • Quality, quantity and diversity of editorial initiatives and publishing houses;
  • Quality and quantity of educational programmes focusing on domestic or foreign literature in primary and secondary schools as well as universities;
  • Urban environment in which literature, drama and/or poetry play an integral role;
  • Experience in hosting literary events and festivals aiming at promoting domestic and foreign literature;
  • Libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centres dedicated to the preservation, promotion and dissemination of domestic and foreign literature;
  • Active effort by the publishing sector to translate literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature;
  • Active involvement of media, including new media, in promoting literature and strengthening the market for literary products.

Edinburgh City of Literature presents its credentials thus: “This literary heritage is exemplified through the cities wealth of publishers and print houses and the history of writers who have originated from or been drawn to the city – writers such as Robert Burns, James Hogg, JM Barrie as well as more modern writers such Ian Rankin and JK Rowling.  The Edinburgh City of Literature Trust works closely with partner organisations to: promote book culture in Edinburgh; encourage involvement in Scotland’s literature; develop literary partnerships around the world; and ensure that access to Edinburgh’s literature is available to all.” 

Preliminary estimates are that the City of Literature designation is expected to generate approximately €2.5m a year for the city and €2.4m to the rest of Scotland. The University of Edinburgh has the oldest Department of English Literature in the world.  While the city also boasts a Centre for Literature and Writing at Edinburgh Napier University.

Following its initial phase of work in establishing the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, promoting educational programmes and raising awareness about the City of Literature designation, activity is now focused on enhancing the experiential nature of the visitor experience and maximizing the opportunities from ‘creative tourism’. Initiatives that are being pursued include linking the tangible assets and attractions such as the National Library of Scotland , the Scottish Poetry Library, and the Writers Museum  with the less tangible and  more challenging to present aspects of the stories and narratives that are evocative of Edinburgh’s literary heritage.  Much of this work is focused on the use of web based and mobile technologies such as downloadable itineraries and Apps. With another critical strand of activity being the packaging of product with tourism  businesses, and the development of literary based events. There is a drive in the city to be the global leader in this respect.

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1 Response to UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network |Part 1| Edinburgh City of Literature

  1. Pingback: UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network |Part 2| Glasgow City of Music | Place Management & Branding

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