A single focus on retail will not help our town centres thrive, by Peter Gamble
A single focus on retail will not help our town centres thrive, by Peter Gamble.
Town centres and high streets should seek to create places that people enjoy, recalling the character and feeling of the best European cities, argues Peter Gamble in a recent article.
The drivers of urban regeneration have changed through the generations. During the last development cycle most town centre development was retail led. Growth of the consumer society over the last generation created a seemly insatiable appetite for retail space. This particular bubble burst spectacularly from 2008 onwards by the destructive combination of the financial crisis and online retailing coming of age.
Today, if high streets and town centres are to thrive they should diversify their offer and create a broader experience with a social dimension for consumers to counter the threat of shopping online and attract people back.
Town centres and high streets should encourage footfall by creating places that people enjoy, recalling the character and feeling of the best European cities, where shopping is just one of many choices. Of course, the high-profile capital cities across the continent all enjoy places like this; one of so many examples would be Karl Johanes Gate in Oslo – a vibrant square with the Norwegian Parliament at its heart in a city which also enjoys one of the finest new waterfront developments in Europe. It is much more likely, however, that they can also be found in regional centres to the European conurbations – places we would view as secondary town centres. Our equivalent high streets, however, suffer from a depressing over dependence on retail.
In the future, we’ll see a wider breadth of leisure uses. Research by JLL suggests that in a typical shopping centre leisure accounts for between 6 and 10 per cent of lettable space, but in the next 10 years it will account for 20 to 25 per cent. As a result, town centre developments can no longer rely on the anchor store. A future step, although it really is only learning from the past, would be to work harder to integrate community facilities, such as libraries, leisure centres, children’s play areas and performance venues, to form part of a vibrant, varied destination.
This resurgence is already starting to appear in places such as, Exeter where the Princess Hay retail venue is knitted into the historic centre, and in Cardiff, where St Davids 2 could be viewed as anchored by the concert hall and library alongside John Lewis. Across the UK, planners and architects are beginning to work together to provide retail environments in which we can explore several activities at once and enjoy our surroundings. This is a good thing for all of us; for the people who enjoy good design and the people enjoy good places, and it must continue; the creation of places that will delight and so attract us is about far more than simple retail design.