An article published in an American magazine claims Edinburgh is "a once great city now in abject decline".
Professor Richard Williams referred to the capital as a "dystopian wasteland" in Foreign Policy magazine.
His article, Scotch This Plan: Scotland’s decaying capital city shows why this country is not ready for independence, has caused anger with Edinburgh’s chiefs.
Prof Williams, a professor of contemporary visual cultures at Edinburgh University, calls the trams and Edinburgh Waterfront improvements shoddy attempts at regeneration. Princes Street and Stockbridge are referred to as shabby and poor.
His article reads: "Due north of Princes Street, along the Firth of Forth, is Edinburgh Waterfront, a project to rebuild the city's industrial ocean frontage. It starts promisingly enough in Leith with warehouse conversions and funky bars, but head a quarter-mile east and you find yourself in a dystopian wasteland of vacant lots worthy of a JG Ballard novel.
"The waterfront reaches its peak of despair at Granton Harbour where a handful of shoddy buildings emerge from a giant mud pool, the inadvertent result of stalled construction. Wrecked bicycles and shopping carts litter the scene.
"Edinburgh struggles with the past as much as it struggles with the future. The result is a curious paralysis and a paradoxical sense of decline.
"The city's difficulties are perhaps in microcosm those of a nation uncertain about its future. Before Scotland can be a country, its capital needs to get its house in order."
Council leader Andrew Burns said the article did not show Edinburgh in its true light.
He said: "Recently named 'Europe's Leading Destination' at the World Travel Awards, Edinburgh is famed for its history and culture but is also known as a thriving, modern city.
"I would also like to draw [the author's] attention to examples of very successful renovation projects in the Grassmarket, St Andrew Square and Multrees Walk."