Future Of The High Street

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Written by Taylan Tahir

Written by Taylan Tahir

We believe high streets play a vital role in strengthening local communities and will have more social relevance than ever in a post Covid world.

Our aim is to contribute to the wider conversation and discourse on the future of UK high streets at a time that we believe is opportunistic for forward thinking local authorities and landlords to take action.

In this piece of research, we have explored a number of case studies, both inside and outside of the UK, where we believe particular locations or spaces are precedent to the way struggling high streets could be best developed for the future. Using examples of high streets already short listed for the £1billion Future High Streets Fund, we have tested a number of principles for adaptations to different scales of high street. We feel these principles could be adopted in a number of different locations around the UK to develop more relevant, genuine social destinations.

An additional £50 million ‘Reopening High Streets Safely Fund’ has also been made available to local authorities in England to help businesses re-open and welcome back customers. The existence of these high value funds highlights the impetus of Government to restructure high streets and the importance placed on making them successful.

High Streets 2020

Not all high streets are in equal decline, in some instances they are thriving, but the overall trend is a negative one. Many high streets today function predominantly as a linear thoroughfare for vehicles and pedestrians with fixed, separated retail spaces and limited opportunities for lingering or socialising.

The draw for visitors relies predominantly on traditional food and retail offerings open at limited times of the day. Access to the high street is reliant on driving without dedicated cycling infrastructure.

Future High Streets

Our future vision of a thriving high street is one of sustainability and vibrancy in which public space and opportunities for socialising are primary The linear diagram becomes expansive as the high street permeates into the surrounding community and becomes a place to live, work and play.

The cycling and pedestrian experience is prioritised above vehicular access. Community and garden spaces are integrated externally and internally.

The draw for visitors is varied and changing to meet the needs of the community. Mixed activity spaces contribute to a natural day and night economy and compliment traditional retail.

“In a Society becoming steadily more privatized with private homes, cars, computers, offices and shopping centers, the public component of our lives is disappearing. It is more and more important to make the cities inviting, so we can meet our fellow citizens face to face and experience directly through our senses. Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life.”

– Jan Gehl

Ramsgate High Street, Thanet.

We have imagined the ‘Ramsgate Market’, which could house a changing programme of mixed activity and showcase local talent and independent businesses. Flexible uses can also expand and contract to the changing demands of a seasonal economy.

In the Winter these same areas can be covered and heated. There is potential for additional excavation to increase space and light. Externally new street lighting and a consistent signage/branding strategy would bring a stronger identity to the parade. Opportunities for additional planting and greenery could be explored.

Broadwalk, Harlow, Essex

As expansive, city-centre corporate offices are swapped for local and home working, we would promote the opportunity for a more flexible local office shared with community space/hub. We imagine a reduction in costs with lower outer-city rents, more social benefits and a better connection to the local community. The adaptation of large format retail units allows access for smaller brands and more active street frontages with seating and space for businesses to spill out at both ground/first floor. There is opportunity to utilise roof tops for planting and public space. We imagine a linear park combining seating with integrated planting and flexible social spaces suitable for events and performance.

Putney High Street, Wandsworth.

We imagine Putney High Street as a pedestrian prioritised zone with a shared surface between road and pavement. Widened public spaces with planting used as a barrier/separation from traffic and a dedicated cycle infrastructure. Unused roof tops could be re-purposed for planting and public space. Passive overlooking and surveillance at first floor level serve to create a safer environment. More flexible planning use classes and alternative, mixed-activity development combining retail and leisure function will promote a day/night economy. As an example of this, we have imagined the ‘Putney Glasshouse’, a garden centre/well-being workspace and cafe.

Read our full research document:

If you are interested in collaborating or discussing these ideas further with us please get in touch.

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