Look at your town centre as a network of gardens, a promenade, a stage and be prepared to be outrageous. This was the advice given by Julian Dobson to meeting of the Scottish Towns Partnership in Edinburgh. He stressed the need to challenge the existing narratives about town centres which are too often about decline and narrowly focussed on retailing.
Presenting his new book How to save our town centres: a radical agenda for the future of high streets, Dobson stressed the mutiple roles that town centres play. Not just a collection of shops, they are key to the identity of a town. He pointed to the importance of historic civic buildings as key assets that have potential to accommodate new uses. In planning and managing town centres the aim should be to create value for everyone. There needs to be flexible spaces where people can express themselves. Planners need to be more flexible, though he did not support the idea that change of use from retail to residential should be permitted development.
He mentioned the success of the Incredible Edible initiaitive and the benefits from bring production and consumption together in town centres. However, he also recognised the formidible barriers presented by the ownership of town centre properties by distant institutions and investors with no real engagement with the town and its citizens. Also increases in capital value are passed on in rents to tenants and not returned to the community.
Dobson is Director of Urban Pollinators which he styles as a “practical think tank”. His book will be reviewed on this website.
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