Patrick Geddes
father of urban planning & Wizard of light

Is there enough magic in all the world to save Muggles from themselves?

Geddes developed the outlook tower, atop which sat his Camera Obscura. Dumbledore pointed his telescope at the stars, Geddes pointed his telescope at his neighbours, conjuring empathy from the uncaring, affluent new towners.

Edinburgh's Camera Obscura rises above the Lawnmarket skyline with the Pentland hills in the background and Assembly Hall in the foreground
Camera Obscura, a mutilated mushroom against the sky

Patrick Geddes studied at the Royal Colleges of mines in London for three years but never finished his degree. He would go on to be a publisher, an author, be knighted, become a professor at Dundee university, lecture in Zoology at Edinburgh university and a Chair at the University of Bombay. A bit like Horace ‘I’m a settee’ Slughorn.

In 1886 he married the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Anna Morton, and this seems to have gifted him the security he needed to devote himself and flourish. Like many of the ascending middle classes he lived in Edinburgh’s new town. Then one day he uprooted his family to the slum of James’s Court in the old town of Edinburgh.

He was on a mission and In 1892 Geddes transformed a building toward the top of the Royal Mile. He created the world's first sociological laboratory and renamed it ‘the Outlook Tower’ because he wanted to change people’s outlook.

The middle class would trip up from the Georgian new town. Geddes believed learning should engage the emotions, and include exercise so he would rush them up the towers stair all the way to the roof. With blood rushing to their heads he waved them into the Camera Obscura.

Advert inviting you to Patrick Geddes Outlook tower on Edinburgh's Lawnmarket

"Camera obscura" is Latin for "dark chamber", it has the feel of a seance. You sit in a circle around a table covered with a white cloth, the lights are cut, and an image shimmers to life from a lens in the ceiling.

Geddes orientated guests with a panoramic view of Edinburgh, then zooming in for a closer look at the old town slums and their own genteel homes. Through education Patrick conjured empathy spurring support to make life in the city work for both wealthy and poor.

Edinburgh, was being christened the Athens of the North, the city scattered with neo-classical jewels, little flagships of ancient Greece, buildings and monuments designed for awe inspiring effect.

But Geddes was no fan of junking everything. He sought to study what was already going on in a locality and improve communal life

"This school strives to adapt itself to meet the wants and needs, the ideas and ideals of the place and persons concerned. It seeks to undo as little as possible, while planning to increase the well-being of the people at all levels, from the humblest to the highest."
- Jacqueline Tyrwhitt: Patrick Geddes in India

He founded University Hall, the first Hall of Residence in Edinburgh. The hall was set up in renovated properties around the Lawnmarket, including one in Riddle's Court.

Patrick Geddes towers of Ramsay Gardens on the Lawnmarket
"The seven towered castle I built for my beloved"

Geddes created Ramsay Gardens, fanciful Disney style baronial flats strewn with towers, eaves and balconies, he referred to them as the "seven-towered castle I built for my beloved", his wife Anna Morton. He wanted to encourage wealthier professionals to settle in the Old Town. Later he would renovate housing for the working class, like Dumbledore’s Hogwarts he wanted a mixed, vibrant community.

He brought greenery to the Royal Mile’s derelict land and run down courts, believing they encouraged people to be active and outdoors and helped community cohesion. Sanitation, plantation, Geddes began the transformation of the Royal Mile into something habitable and prevented its demolition.

Patrick Geddes with wild hair sticking up like Harry Potter's
Patrick Geddes and a stupendous mop, both ends

Geddes would eventually vacate Edinburgh to develop the nucleus of Israel’s Tel Aviv, and draw up plans for a sympathetic evolution of India’s Bombay. With no one to rush them up the stair the Tower had lost its enchanter.

The Wizard's Tower of Patrick Geddes

I know an old house, a tall house, a stone house,
that stands upon a narrow street,
Yet looks from hills to sea.
If up its stairs you clamber, from chamber to chamber,
It may be you will find your feet
Can never more be free.

For if you meet the Enchanter there,
With searching eye, unruly hair,
He’ll put a spell upon you,
A strange compulsion on you,
And if you do not come down again
‘Tis by another stair.

A stair that leads to no fair meads
Of Indolence and Ease,
But through the maze
Of thought for days,
Till new ideas hum like bees,
And the time is come for Deeds!

by Norah G Mears, Geddes daughter and posthumous biographer.

Edinburgh's finest attraction for kids, a cannon shot from the castle

Camera Obscura's photo of the Outlook Tower & original advert

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