The narrative of the ‘dying high street’ both pre- and post-pandemic has often been over-hyped and overstated.
The distinctive problem is the lack of investment to turn one-dimensional towns into locations with different layers, such as buildings punctuated with public space, nature to contrast the man-made and historic buildings to complement the new.
Improving the aesthetic of a town centre is more than just a new paint job – time is needed to create a unique experience for locals and visitors. Fundamentally, it is the creation of a ‘space’, not a ‘place’.
Investing in the development of a space focuses on creating an area where people want to live, work and socialise. Ensuring that consumers are inspired as they pass through the high street persuades them to explore the area rather than hurry on to the next errand.
Working with independent retailers is a great way to bring something different and exciting to the high street. These shop-based experiences such as engaging workshops, community events and outdoor dining are not offered by shopping online and therefore generate generous footfall by setting the high street apart. There needs to be a ‘why’ when visiting high streets considering the ease of online shopping.
Another way to provide the ‘why’ for new developments is to focus on the natural landscapes nearby. The new Waterside Quarter development in Maidenhead, Berkshire, has utilised the local river that passes through the town to create a food quarter. An array of independent retailers and restaurants can be found at the mixed-use development where consumers spill on to the streets alongside the scenic river walkway to create a bustling retail hub.
Investing in experience and focusing on tenants that allow visitors to spend the whole day from eating and shopping to enjoying a refreshing walk or an overnight stay is vital to give a location its own identity and should be considered at the planning stage of any town.
Katherine Croom is managing director of Sorbon Estates