curiosity about the ways of the world

Anyone for the pop-up economy?

Pop-up opportunity?

A pop-up opportunity until the next tenant comes along?

The old hard-ware shop is long gone and now the bright new baby-ware shop that took its place has gone too (though only as far as the next village).  I’m sorry to see empty windows and To Let signs in Broughton Street but maybe, just maybe, this is an opportunity for the kind of pop-up enterprise which turns derelict petrol stations into cinemas and transforms the top floor of a multi-storey car park into a stylish bar.  Well, why ever not?

Empty spaces in city centre villages like Broughton and Stockbridge – not to mention edgy towns like Leith – are crying out to be filled with here-today gone-tomorrow galleries, shops, cafes and offices.  I long to see Edinburgh develop the spark of cities like Berlin where the excitement has a lot to do with the fact that café  and shops have a slightly precarious DIY feel about them.

Could there be signs of a new edginess in Edinburgh? I hope so.

Residents of Abbeyhill have been turning their own homes into a kind of pop-up art exhibition once a year for the last four years. Against the odds, during the festival, the  third annual Retreat ‘DIY pop festival’ filled Pilrig church hall with local rock bands and their fans and this weekend another home-spun community festival brings jazz  to Broughton, occupying not just pubs but also the  very elegant Broughton St Mary’s church with local jazz musicians and music lovers of all ages.

Then there’s Dance Base coming to the old Thomas Morton Hall in Leith in October (a wonderful space sadly underused).  And, come to think of it,  the World Kitchen in Leith, popped up in the Drill Hall Arts Café in August and with luck we will pop up again.


But that is just scratching the surface.  Take a look at the excellent Pop-Up Culture blog created by Tom Lousada.  How about that cinema in a derelict petrol station? Or Frank’s Café and Campari Bar on top of a multi-storey car park in Peckham with a fantastic view of the city in a space which will probably not be there for much longer than the three weeks it took to build in the first place.  The thrill of these places seems to be at least partly because  even when they are legal they feel like they are not and partly because you are lucky to catch them while they are there.

This is a different kind of consumer society; a rebellion against the clone city: creative, local, and street-wise, endlessly inventing and re-inventing the space to meet the inspiration of the moment and allowing opportunities to a succession of imaginative enterprises.

Let’s do it.  Right now I am thinking of Ocean Terminal.  Sadly the waterfront of Leith looks like being a monumentally wasted opportunity.  But maybe not. As an Edinburgh planner once said to me, it is a pity the Ocean Terminal car parks have the best view in the whole building.  Isn’t that just a pop-up restaurant waiting to happen?


Pop-up art in Princes Mall during last year’s festival season


  1. Administrator

    Thanks Annette, it does feel as if there is something in the air.

    I wonder if it would be possible to set up a kind of register of empty shops available for temporary use – both to keep the property in good shape and also to bring vitality to the area.

  2. Annette O'Carroll

    Very interesting! Leith Central Community Council is concerned about the future for the Leith Walk/Easter Road areas in the aftermath of the curtailment of the tram route. With the future of the various gap sites on Leith Walk uncertain (but did we really need all those hotels and supermarkets anyway?) we are keen to help promote other initiatives. It looks as if a lot of other people may be thinking along the same lines.

    We’ve just objected to a recent planning application to convert vacant shop units on Easter Road into tiny one-bed flats, since we felt that this would prevent any future uses that might help to maintain the vitality of the area. We were glad to see that the planning application has just been withdrawn

  3. Administrator

    That sounds really interesting Nicky, I would love to come and visit the emporium while it is there.

    Great to hear the response has been so good. I wonder if there is a way to use success stories like yours to open the eyes oft property owners and letting agents and encourage a ripple of new opportunities.

    Meanwhile, all power to Frugal Cool!

  4. Nicky Orr

    What about Frugal Cool’s Pop-Up Emporium of Sustainability and Design in Musselburgh? Six weeks of local eco craft and design. Response so far has been phenomenal.
    Pop-up is a great idea, sadly a lot of property owners and agents just don’t get it. Thanks for the article.

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