September 7, 2011
As retail struggles, new models for our high streets are emerging. Ivan Tennant assesses some creative approaches to town centres.
The difficulty facing many high streets was highlighted with the appointment of Mary Portas to carry out an independent review earlier this year. On appointment, she said she wanted to identify what high streets should be ‘in the future’.
Many commentators, such as Jackie Sadek of UK Regeneration and Mike Riddell of Insite Asset Management, have urged her to look at greater investment in cultural amenities as part of her study. Plan Projects own research and the work we have been doing with private developers and local authorities alike similarly leads us to believe high streets’ core offer should not just be about shopping but delivery of an overarching experience that represents a strong and memorable cultural experience drawn from the values, traditions and identity of the place in question.
WHAT ARE HIGH STREETS FOR?
It is worth asking the question, what are our high streets for? Historically, it was the local hub where people came to trade. Over time, this activity has acquired a cultural dimension built on local practices and traditions. City centres have built up a fine stock of buildings, the area often peppered with cultural attractions that work in a symbiotic way with commercial activity and underpin civic pride and identity. As a result these places today can offer rich opportunities for social interaction, both planned and by chance, enjoyment of the built environment and a wide range of leisure activities.
For many consumers, these associated cultural motives have become the principal reason for visiting the high street as they have found other means to shop, for example, through the internet. The glove has therefore been turned inside out; what once seemed like an embellishment has become part of the core service and its quality essential to a high street’s prosperity.