With the rise of the out of town superstores, high streets across the country are no longer thriving. However, there is a socio-economic model that Mary Portas would be pleased about that has the capacity to make the high street the centre of the community and boost health and wellbeing for the Nation.
As a future looking systems engineer, I get paid to tackle those complex problems where systemic failures are addressed and resilience designed in to provide robust enduring solutions for my clients. The challenges facing the population of obesity, mental health and the threat of the Artificial Intelligence Revolution dramatically changing the job market are significant. We are faced wih an opportunity to rethink the purpose of the high street in the big retail picture.
The corner shop and high street developed to support societal needs of convenience to be able to do the daily shop for fresh food and goods. The introduction of the domestic fridge and freezer had a huge impact on shopping habits. People didn’t need to shop daily for fresh food when it could last for days in the fridge or weeks when frozen. When the supermarkets began selling milk in cartons, the daily doorstep delivery by the milkman was doomed.
The high street began to grow as a focal point to buy everything you needed. Anything you wanted could be found on the high street. As supermarkets grew and began selling more than just food, out of town retail superstores and shopping centres provided even more choice. The purchasing power of these large stores meant lower prices, and people seemed to favour price over service. This was the start of the fall of the high street. The Internet and being able to buy online was the next big step and that marked the end for many companies who didn’t change their business model quickly enough and market themselves in the right way online.
So is this the end of the high street? Some think so, but I have a vision of a societal change that can revitalise the high street as the core of the community, providing social, recreational and retail hubs. Let me explain.
What do People Want From Recreation?
Over the years I have observed some interesting habits associated with recreation and outdoor leisure. People want:
- to feel good about themselves
- Health and welbeing
- to be social
- food and drink
- personal accomplishment
- To do or try something interesting
The outdoor recreation industry prides itself on trying to get people out of the towns and cities and into the countryside to enjoy leisure activities. However, the types of people they wish to target do not necessarily have the means or motivation to visit the lakes and mountains in the depths of the countryside. So why not bring outdoor recreation to where the people are?
If you have ever visited Go Ape or a Forestry Commission site, you will find trailhead shops that rent and sell outdoor gear for cyclists, hikers and casual weekenders. In addition to the compulsory teas shop, cafe or restaurant, these shops provide visitors with a single choice of purchase for the right here and now. I have seen people spend huge amounts of money on the latest gear just because they want to have it there and then and experience some outdoor fun. Why didn’t they plan ahead? The thing is that most people will buy due to convenience or as a spontaneous purchase. Due to the Internet, society is expecting convenience to give them what they want right here and right now. Ever seen a kid blackmail their parents for that toy or icecream that they have seen and WANT IT NOW!
Why not exploit those societal behaviours further by providing that convenience in the locations where people are most in need of those healthy recreational options? Develop green spaces and facilities in the centre of towns and cities and provide trail head shops and services to enable casual visitors to be more active outdoors. The high street should provide places to have food and drink and be social. At the same time give people the opportunities to spend more time socially being active recreationally.
10 Essential Elements to Make the High Street Thrive
I reckon that if a study is carried out to compare the high streets that are still thriving and those that are not, they will observe that the ones that thrive have the following:
- Good quality places to eat and drink socially
- Green spaces nearby such as parks, playgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts, sports pitches and multi-use games areas.
- Leisure centres, gyms and other indoor recreational spaces
- Easy access via cars and public transport
- Shops providing recreational goods and gear
- Good street lighting
- A safe environment
- Places to sit, spectate, relax and read.
If you compare this with what Center Parcs has to offer, you will find that it is very similar in how it has been set up. The focal recreational hub also has places to socialise, eat and drink. There are plenty of places for those of all ages who want to be a part of the social scene but don’t necessarily want to actively join in. This is ideal for grandparents and those less able. It allows people of all ages to feel a part of the activity.
Events are also a key part of the recreational hub. Organised events and activities whether they are activities such as parkrun, craft days or nature watches, all the way up to outdoor cinema screenings, concerts, theatre and fireworks.
So, through a bit of urban design, local councils can have a huge impact on the Nation’s health, wellbeing and prosperity. This will impact the burden on the National Health Service, improve the mental health of the population, improve the economy, and bring the heart back to the community. This will see a rise in people spending time together for real, and could help to reduce the screen time addiction society is succumbing to.
Once the population experiences the pleasure and benefits of being active outdoors in their local community, the outdoor leisure and travel industries will see an upturn in the number of people wanting to explore further afield and experience the adventures to be had around the world.
Who do you reckon would be pivotal players in making this happen? do you think it would work?