Tales of the High Street

Built Environment Fellowship 2019

David Rudlin, Lucy Montague, Vicky Payne

What do we mean by the crisis on the high street? We know that scores of retailers have disappeared and thousands of shops closed. But is this dire scene the whole picture? Do we understand why some places are doing well while others have been devastated? Why initiatives in one place work while the same strategy elsewhere has no effect? Is it because some retailers have failed to adapt or is the high street itself the problem?

Tales of the High Street

There is no shortage of suggestions about what we might do: environmental works, traffic calming, environmental improvements, better promotion and animation, pop-up retailers have all been set out in good practice guides. But before we prescribe the medicine we should take a little more time to make sure we have the right diagnosis. The high street is not a homogeneous place and the aim of this research will be to understand it a little better.

We will do this by studying one hundred high streets, including big cities, smaller cities, large towns, small towns and suburban centres as well as out-of-town centres and online retailers. In doing so we will analyse data to understand the cold, hard facts, but will also look for the stories – the people who have made a difference and the initiatives that have worked.

Many of these stories go beyond what can be captured in best practice guides. You can’t write a policy that will magic into existence an extraordinary community activist or a creative entrepreneur. But their stories can inspire and show that change is possible and that there is a future for our high streets. Our aim is to do this by narrating the tales of a hundred high streets.