The recent Portas Review of the high street set out 28 recommendations to revitalise our town centres, number one of which was to set up ‘town teams’ to bring together different stakeholders into a single management team.
While Mary Portas described this as ‘getting our town centres running like businesses’, she meant something much bigger than that, as she explained in an earlier section of her report:
‘I want to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets, reimagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning.’
This idea echoes our proposals in The 21st Century Agora (which you can download here) of seeing town centres as multifunctional social centres, with many layers of community, cultural and civic activity adding to the business mix and generating economic opportunities. But how do you get from here to there?
The answers to that will vary according to the unique circumstances of each place. But the starting point is to ask the right questions. In a presentation for Urban Design London (above) I set out ten questions that every town team should ask.
Some of them may seem huge and nothing to do with the high street; others may appear obvious. But without a conscious and deliberate effort to address each of them within a ‘whole place’ framework, there’s a risk that activities may be misconceived and address secondary issues, dealing with symptoms rather than causes.