High Streets are Changing, but are they changing for the better?
There are 100s of ways to improve High Streets. As you would expect some people have thought about this at greater length than I. Some of the issues are structural and deeply embedded, some are cyclical, so I have boiled it down to a list of things that ‘we can do’:
- building some form of partnership of local business and residents
- exposing the idea of place and identity, and above all experience and then developing a town brand
- improving the look and function of the streetscape
- examining how new entrants are attracted in while keeping the best of the old (and nudging out the worst?)
- looking at how the street is made accessible to all (but without obsessing about the motor car)
- improving the feeling of safety and security (see also above and below)
- extending trading into evenings and w/es while ensuring the night-time economy isn’t detrimental to residents or others
It is perhaps not surprising that the Scottish Government’s response to Malcolm Fraser’s Town Centre recommendations is short on on easy answers, as the problems it tackles are quite complex – some say irresolvable, but it is commendably brief.
The predictable rhetoric is all there in the Minister’s opening remarks:- ”all directorates have been actively engaged, identifying the relevant policies, programmes and strategies which support and put in place the conditions for the recommendations to be delivered locally and to assist local action.” I should hope so too. But I hope that we don’t have a boring bureaucratic response in the shape of The Regeneration Unit, simply co-ordinating activity by spreadsheet and action plan. The language of partnership, empowerment and participation have pervaded public policy under successive governments, so it is easy to get jaded. I am not alone in thinking that all this ‘joined up thinking’ is more like ‘stitched up thinking’ and subverting the democratic process with a new managerialism.
Not long ago the council pointlessly erected new signs, to the Police Station and to make us all aware of the new crossings, as if the reflective plastic coatings on the belishas themselves wasn’t insulting enough.
And now the pole is gone. It came down in the night, sometime last week. When asked by our diligent reporters, locals asserted it came down in the wind. Yeah right, whatever.
Can participation in design deliver a better public realm? I doubt it. This conflicts with my political and democratic instincts which incline towards allowing non-experts some say in decisions about the public realm, but I draw the line when it comes to design.
Those in the know, will have heard of the special relationship that exists between Dunbar’s Abbey Church and its big sister the Bedlam Church in nearby Edinburgh, both built in the mid 1800s by the architect Thomas Hamilton for the Free Church. More elegant and refined, and altogether much better loved, Bedlam is looking smarter than ever, as its very expensive makeover was completed earlier this year. Even the railings have been rejuvenated and look splendid. I recommend you take a look.