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What does the future hold for city centres?

December 7, 2021

Will our City Centre's evolve to keep up with a new way of life?

The City Centre.

A place to shop, drink and dine. A place to wander round, book hotels to explore over a weekend, an area of study, a base for leisure and activity. And yet …

Napoleon once described the British as a nation of shopkeepers and we’re renowned as a nation for consumerism, heritage and some of the greatest cities of the world.

Kinetic Demolition, as you probably know, are based in Edinburgh, a city rightly regarded as one of the best in the world (though perhaps not for its weather) and Edinburgh, along with London, has survived the changing habits of consumers. When the UK was locked down and hospitality venues closed, footfall in many towns and cities collapsed. Edinburgh saw the same and yet, as an international city of choice for short breaks and its Fringe Festival, is better placed than many to weather the Covid-19 storm.

But do City Centre’s, outside tourist hotspots like London, York and Edinburgh have a future doing as they did in the past?

Probably not – is the honest answer. 

If a retail giant like John Lewis can close huge stores in Aberdeen, Peterborough and Birmingham. With the likes of Debenhams and Jenner’s, in Edinburgh, now gone, can the city survive without department stores? Does it need the multi-storey car parks now that 70% of sales for John Lewis come from its website and app?

What about out of town retail parks, formerly occupied by the likes of Toys R Us? What will happen to multiplex cinemas now the pandemic has altered consumer habits?

Lots of questions, we know, and so far few answers from us?

And yet.

If we look to the south and west, there is a City Centre blueprint that other towns and cities in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland could do well to look at.

It’s in Liverpool, no less, a city that has had to constantly reinvent itself from its past. It was a maritime centre, a hub for voyages and a place associated with the awful legacy of slavery. It’s seen urban decline and huge regeneration in the Albert Docks and city centre. It’s at it again too.

Realising that people need a reason to make an effort to come into the city centre, other than for retail and restaurants, they’ve moved to a culture of events and exhibitions. It’s a simple step but genius in many ways. If there are 50 street events on offer every weekend, for example, footfall will increase, city centre spending will rise and businesses will survive and thrive.

City Centre’s need to change

What’s clear to us and many others is that there’s been a real change in to how City Centre’s operate. Working from home, buying goods and services online and a move to virtual events may have been final nails in city centre coffins.

Edinburgh, London, York and others will never be abandoned, but town planners, demolition companies, architects and councils need to consider what a changing urban landscape will look like?

Should those abandoned department stores and retail units become residential conversions, hotels or event center’s?

What do you think?

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