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Charette Week at Newcastle University school of Architecture Landscape and Planning is an opportunity for inter-disciplinary discussion between artists, sculptors, architects and researchers around a central theme. Last year’s Charette Week revolved around the theme of the High Street, therefore I chose to reflect on the demise of the UK’s High Streets and reflect on the opportunities that it may hold.

For years, the nationwide trend has been that the High Street is dying, largely due to increasing rent to the growth of online retailers and their ability to undercut the prices available on the High Street[1]. The model of retail of development in the 90s and 00s encouraged fewer but larger stores on the High Street[2], hence the growth of chains such as Woolworths, WHSmith and Waterstones. With the dwindling demand for multi-product stores, boarded up windows and ‘To-Let’ signs have become commonplace on Britain’s High Streets.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom.

With the mass market being catered for by online retailers, space on the High Street is being released for independent, artisan shops to try their hand. And they are booming[3]. They reflect a trend that the public are becoming more concerned about their shopping experience. Its where, not what you buy.

A purchase on the High Street is no longer for the everyday, the rise in Our time is so precious to us that our trips to the High Street are no longer for the everyday, rather an indulgence, providing experience and engagement which cannot be replicated on websites[4]. For example, stores have free-tasters, public make-up tutorials or pottery or gym classes visible from the street. The products offered on the High Street are now more of an artisan type product, coming from ethical or organic origins.

As High Streets become more tailored to their area and based around customer experience it is likely there will be vacant retail units. These provide an exciting opportunity for designers to rethink these spaces for community or social uses as well as potentially utilising them for residential dwellings to help ease the housing crisis[5].

The High Street is evolving into its next phase of being. No longer propped up by the reliable everyday chains, it is being a more artisan and unique and therefore less reliable model. Removal of the big brands from the High Street offers and opportunity for the High Street to welcome back the character of towns and ‘revive what is good about that place’[6]. The High Street is becoming less about buying and selling good and more about the experience and community atmosphere that the Internet has left our lives void of.

 


References:

[1] Judith Evans, ‘Death of the High Street Weighs on Landlords Round the World’, Financial Times, 21 June 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/4e5e1022-8df3-11e9-a1c1-51bf8f989972.

[2] Chris McCrudden, ‘Opinion: We Are Witnessing the Death of the High Street – but We Don’t Need to Get Too Sad about It’, The Independent, 17 June 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/high-street-arcadia-group-philip-green-amazon-delivery-a8961771.html.

[3] Jamie Johnson, ‘Death of the High Street Is Overstated, Claims Which?, As Analysis Shows Rebirth of Independent Shops’, The Telegraph, 19 October 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/10/19/death-high-street-overstated-claims-analysis-shows-rebirth-independent/.

[4] Philip Aldrick, ‘“Turn Derelict Shops into Homes to Save Town Centres”’, The Times, 26 June 2018, sec. Business, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/turn-derelict-shops-into-homes-to-save-town-centres-j5htqvb3x.

[5] Aldrick.

[6] Rowan Moore, ‘After the Retail Apocalypse, What next for the High Street?’, The Observer, 1 December 2018, sec. Society, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/01/everything-must-go-what-next-for-the-high-street-new-retail-empty-shops.

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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