Re-imagining Tomorrow’s City Centres: Report Launch

“We can’t predict the future of cities, but we can invent them” Mike Batty, UCL

Last week Blake Morgan and the Southern Policy Centre launched their research report exploring the future of the central South’s city centres. We were joined by Andrew Carter from the Centre for Cities and over 100 participants from across the region – representing councils, businesses and the community. A full copy of the report can be accessed here.

It is clear our report is timely. The changes in how we work, shop and spend our leisure time forced on us by Covid-19 have been a real blow to local economies and communities, accelerating trends we were already seeing. But notwithstanding the trauma city centres are facing, there was a sense that participants in the seminar were optimistic and confident about the future.

Andrew Carter began by recognising that cities across the world have faced many challenges in the last 6,000 years. The current crisis will not spell the end of cities, as some have forecast, they continue to adapt, survive and thrive. As policy makers and managers of our city centres we need to respond and recover, but not to panic and risk ‘overshooting’. There is an opportunity to re-invent, keeping our centres at the economic, social and environmental heart of our communities – for the benefit of their residents and the suburban and rural areas which depend on their unique offer.

Our audience were keen to explore imaginative and creative new ideas, building on the many promising initiatives already underway. Shops are being re-imagined and office accommodation being re-purposed to suit new practices – with a more diverse use of space, offering shared space and room for start-ups and social enterprises. We need to be more flexible in how we see workspace, and ready to go with evolving practices.

But, as one participant pointed out, it’s not simply about property. We need an holistic approach which encourages us to build places for people. The city centre needs a mixed community of people who sense they ‘belong’, not simply an ever-changing group of transient occupants. We must enable young and older people to live in close proximity, with affordable, fit-for-purpose housing. And those residents need green space and places to meet.

One clear lesson of the pandemic has been the value people place on green space within their city centre. We’ve learned how important access to nature is for our mental and physical wellbeing, and participants welcomed plans to create ‘green corridors’ at the heart of our cities. They will not only be valuable space for residents and visitors, but they can also help in urban cooling, dealing with pollution and countering climate change.

Our report and the lively discussion at its launch demonstrated there is a real appetite for continuing a broad and inclusive dialogue about the future of our city centres. Many have a part to play, from public service providers and businesses to ordinary people – the residents, the customers for businesses, those who come to the city centre for work or pleasure. It is important we create space for dialogue to flourish and ideas to be generated.

And we also saw encouragement for councils and others to be creative and imaginative as they strive to re-invent the city centre. Many great ideas were being tried out, and our participants were supportive of those who took risks, tried new ways of doing things. As Andrew Carter from Centre for Cities pointed out, the decisions and choices we make today create our future. Those decisions must help us shape distinctive, welcoming and green places where people can shop, live, work and play.

To find out more and help us continue the dialogue contact:

Daniel Curtis (Blake Morgan) Daniel.Curtis@blakemorgan.co.uk

Simon Eden (SPC) edens@southernpolicycentre.co.uk