Evolve and diversify. How flexible thinking can sustain high streets

Fiona Scott_ Gort_Scott portrait

The most successful high streets are those that look beyond a narrow retail focus, writes Fiona Scott

The death of the bricks-and-mortar retail experience has become shorthand for the imminent decline of our high streets, but where does the conception that high streets are all about retail come from?

The data certainly suggests they aren’t: In London, retail and leisure offerings only account for fewer than 20% of businesses in the high street ecosystem. Also clustering around high streets you will find professional and support services, wholesalers, manufacturing and public sector services, with job growth of 21% on or around the high street over the last five years. That is higher than the average growth across London. We all perceive the benefits of high streets. Speaking personally, our current studio knits into the urban fabric, and the local printers, cafes and yoga studios become part of everyday life.

At the launch of High Streets and Town Centres – Adaptive Strategies, commissioned as part of the mayor of London’s Good Growth by Design Programme, we heard Wayne Hemingway talk about his experience of London’s high streets in the 1980s. Tiny units, subdivided from larger ones, gave anybody, even those with no capital, a chance at a business. It was the place you went for your first job in a bar, to hang out on a Saturday night, to see a band and maybe, only because of all those other things, to buy a pair of trousers.

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