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Rethinking the high street - The six pillars of urban thinking
Danny Crump
13th November 2019

A thriving high street is one fuelled by culture as well as commerce, capable of reinventing its value and reanimating its streets as part of a living being.

To achieve this, placemakers must become equal parts designer, choreographer and curator.

Rooted within the timeless concept of the ancient Greek Agora, a central public space that formed the nucleus of a community’s artistic, social and civic identity, our vision for the revitalised high street is built upon a series of interdependent principles which form the infrastructure of successful urbanism.

1. Community

Engage in a genuine co-design process by ensuring young and old, local businesses and communities are central from the very start of the design process. Listen to what people are saying, both formally and informally, in order to truly understand the wants and desires of real people and to avoid the pitfalls of elite projection. An invested local planning authority and strong leadership are key.

2. Authenticity

Tell the story of the local community through design – establish a distinctive sense of identity and help to instill civic pride in those who use it. Honouring the past is important, but by doing so, don’t neglect the future. Every high street must be unique – what works for others may not work for everyone, so it is important that every project treads its own path to success.

3. Aggregation

Put ecosystems before anchor developments – we can no longer rely on the old retail planning assumption that a large single tenant will draw people in. Increasingly, people are craving variety, activity, and opportunities to sit and watch the world go by. Creating ‘clusters’ of place offering a truly diversified mix of uses is what will build a high street that stands the test of time.

4. Experience

What happens outside and in between the buildings is just as important as what happens inside them. Well-designed spaces with open spaces and regular events and activities will bring people in and invite them to stay there too. Think retro first - reimagine and reuse what already exists and build from there, injecting a sense of playfulness and élan. If your urban centre isn’t Instagrammable, it should be.

5. Connectivity

High streets should breed and promote interaction – digital, physical and social. Craft experiences that combine the digital and the physical while cultivating the conditions for spontaneous face-to-face encounters. Promote healthy streets with pedestrian-first environments that are connected by high quality public transport infrastructure.

6. Evolution

Revitalising an urban centre is a marathon not a sprint, so view its development as a journey rather than a destination. Single use spaces are becoming increasingly obsolete, so develop adaptable foundations instead, and embrace the opportunities offered by meanwhile use of space. Curation is king when futureproofing a high street or urban centre. Develop a rolling programme of activities and events that will nurture the place and help develop the personal bonds needed for long term success.

To download our full Street Life report, click here