I believe that the High Street can thrive but that this will not be possible without significant change. Local authorities, businesses and locals alike will have to both embrace and celebrate change and work together to reshape their community for the future. Over the last thirty years there has been a move towards out of town shopping centres and latterly online shopping. These changes have decreased footfall in town centres and have impacted on the bottom line of businesses. It is therefore time to discard old ways of thinking and to look to the future.
The commercial centres of our towns and cities will need to be much smaller and the focus will need to move to experiential retail, leisure and services. The importance of well being and leisure needs to be addressed with a focus on social and community interactions. Shared work spaces, arts and culture and health care will coexist with bars and restaurants and enhanced open spaces creating a sought after destination. 21st Century consumers value convenience as highly as price so bricks and mortar shops will need to sell via multiple channels and offer click and collect and delivery services.
The resilience of a particular town centre will depend on the adaptability of the parties concerned, strong leadership of the change and the development of a clear identity in line with the strengths of the local area and community. It’s vital that the consultation process is inclusive and those local people who feel excluded from their High Streets have a chance to voice their thoughts. Independent businesses will have a central role to play as they connect so closely to the local community. These businesses tend to offer greater interaction with their customers and are by their nature individual and different from what is available in a neighbouring town.
We all know that expensive parking charges and infrastructure problems are argued over constantly. Access to the town centre of the future will have to be addressed with commercial needs such as deliveries taken into consideration. We need to decrease traffic but not remove it entirely. There will be the opportunity to address green issues such as pedestrianisation, car free days, car sharing, green paths and cycle lanes. Electric buses and taxis could be encouraged and Park & Ride schemes enhanced. The city of the future needs to move towards a sustainable model where decisions are made with regard to quality of life, net energy use and social impact.
There have been great successes in towns and cities around the country. Colchester has reinvigorated The South Lanes including entertainment and participatory experiences to entice people back into that part of the town. Altrincham’s indoor market has been part of a success story that has encouraged more people to move back into the centre – vital for vibrancy and viability. Digbeth, 10 minutes from Birmingham’s Bullring has been named the coolest neighbourhood in Britain. Successful in creating a hipster hub with cafes, indie shops and cafes, cinema and arts venues alongside start ups, it has a weekend street-food market and and is known for its street art.
Each community is different and so the solutions will be different. Whatever will strengthen the economy and serve the local population will create a change that will be relevant to their community and lead to a stronger High Street model fit for the 21st Century.
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