The Future of the High Street

high street past and present

high street past and present

Julian Dobson gave a fascinating talk on the Future of the High Street in Chester last Thursday, with Rod Hyde FRSA, who coordinates the Cheshire network summarises it here in his own words.

  • Only a few can succeed at retail led regeneration. It is the standard response for towns and cities but it is doomed. There are only so many retail pounds to spend and a big new retail development just sucks money from other places.
  • Retail led regeneration is not a zero-sum strategy. It is worse. The internet now takes 12% of retail sales and that number is increasing and so there is less money about in the High Street. Add to that our divided society of the have-nots and have-lots and you see there are many towns that cannot attract enough retail pounds
  • There is too much physical retail space in the country and this is a ticking time bomb. 50% of High Street and Shopping Centre leases will expire in 2015 and big brands are retreating into prime spaces.
  • If we just carry on we will get more and more of what we are seeing now: betting, money lending and charity shops. Is this what we want?
  • So what is the alternative? How do we reclaim the High Street in a digital age?
  • Julian talked about a number of ideas that are taking root around the world including reclaiming public space, public assets and local economies. He talked about changing perspective: look at the High Street as garden, allotment , promenade and stage.
  • So what sort of local High Street can you look forward to? Julian mapped out a few possibilities.  Some, like the peripheral city and the numb city, will happen if we don’t get involved. And do we want to live in a theme park city?
  • Julian highlighted some positive examples: Edinburgh is a resilient city with an evolving economy preserving the best of the past. Then there is Hamburg, a self -directed city, building on local pride to forge a shared future.
  • The message was that if you want it to be different you need to get involved. Bottom-up innovation works. But there is also a place for top-down and it was good to see some of our leading politicians in the audience.
  • The talk generated some interesting questions but we were all surprised with the first one: “What should be done in Worcester?” Now Worcester is over a hundred miles away from the Chester and so we didn’t expect a detailed response from Julian. However it gave him a chance to talk about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD): the idea is to use local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development.

The talk was part of a series organised by Andy Foster on behalf of the Cheshire Society of Architects (CSA). This was the first lecture jointly sponsored by the CSA, the RSA and the University of Chester. Other lectures have included a talk from the designers of the proposed new theatre in Chester and  how street design and architecture changes behaviour and allows pedestrians and traffic to share the same space.

The next lecture is on the 5th of December and covers The New Historic City. Book via eventbrite.

Contact Rod Hyde if you would like to be on the circulation list for the next series of lectures, which the Cheshire network intends to support.

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