As we all know there’s a lot of handwringing over our High Streets. They’re being hollowed out by ever rising rents, excessive business rates and competition from online retailers. So, what is it that we should do about this?
One good start would be to understand what people have told us before on the subject:
Despite the doom and gloom, predictions of the death of the high street are misplaced – at least to the extent that they envisage town centres as essentially existing for shopping only. Transforming the fortunes of our high streets, and the prospects of people living or working in them, is eminently possible. But to do so, we need to reimagine town centres as places where, as the urbanist Jane Jacobs put it, the theatre of life can thrive.
OK, great, Jane Jacobs, yes indeedy.
Its transformation did not happen by accident, but as a result of concerted action by local leaders. The massive destruction wreaked by the 1996 IRA bomb accelerated these efforts. A masterplan was put in place, focusing on boosting leisure and cultural facilities such as the Royal Exchange theatre and the Corn Exchange building. The Metrolink, first introduced in 1992, was extended. Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol have been similarly reimagined; in each, retail is a thriving part of the high street, but as a byproduct of its wider success.
Ah, no. Jane Jacobs argued exactly the opposite. Leave the planning alone, allow people to do as they wish, and urban centres will thrive. Sure, you’ve got to police the scum, collect the rubbish and so on. But other than that pretty much don’t have planning laws about who may do what where. Just let them get on with it. Her insight being that people will experiment and do more of those things which succeed. A thriving town centre isn’t “for” anything, it’s just more people doing more of what people want to do in that place.
So, here we’ve the insistence that in order to revive a town in the manner of Jane Jacobs we must go and do exactly the opposite of what Jane Jacobs said we should.
Well done there, vry well done indeed.