Urban Centres - the Solution to Economic, Social and Sustainability Challenges?

(ie building the business case for investment in our centres)

Whether you are a concerned resident, business, property owner, councillor or council officer the following should help generate support for investment in your local high street or town centre.

  1. Prosperity; urban centres generate around 80% of wealth. Urban centres generate around 80% of wealth (that '80%' figure - well worth repeating)
  2. Health; centres are denser and thus more walkable (thus lead naturally and cheaply to fitness and health)
  3. Give a place heart, soul and well, less riots(!)
  4. Financial sustainability/affordability given modest infrastructure requirement
  5. People living in central locations emit less green house gases
  6. We elaborate on these below.

Economic

Urban centres generate around 80% of wealth. Urban centres generate around 80% of wealth. Urban centres generate around 80% of wealth.

Given the squeeze on public spending and the focus on 'enterprise' by government the relevance of this could not be more compelling. Hence we've repeated it. Twice. Greater awareness of this research should enable even those purely driven by economic outcomes to sit up and take notice. Admittedly this '80%' is drawn from a London study ('the centre spatial footprints will barely amount to 20% of the area while concentrating about 80% of wealth generation activities') however the broad principle will be the same across the UK.

This principle is understood by some and indeed was echoed most recently by former Environment Secretary Lord Gummer in his Times column - 'you don’t regenerate your cities by spreading them out, you regenerate them by concentrating them. Look at Liverpool: they destroyed Liverpool by moving people out, shoving them out distances, never gave them any sort of community...if you rebuild your cities and city centres, if you build on land that has already been used, you are concentrating your development in a way that gives life to the city and from that you will get your wealth'.

This theme is is expressed most convincingly by arguably the biggest thinker and influencer in local economic development anywhere in the world today - Richard Florida who has identified the 'creative class' - ie those creative and knowledge economy workers that are absolutely essential to prosperity in the 21st century.

Florida's research finds that the diverse and individualistic lifestyles enjoyed by the Creative Class involve active participation in a variety of experiential activities and uses the term 'street level culture' to define this kind of stimulation. Street level culture may include a “teeming blend of cafes, sidewalk musicians, and small galleries and bistros. Members of the Creative Class enjoy a wide variety of activities (e.g., traveling, antique shopping, bike riding, and running) that highlight the collective interest in being participants and not spectators.

Our town centres and high streets have a massive competitive advantage in creating 'street level culture' and attracting the Creative Class to stimulate economic growth and prosperity.  


Social

Health- centres are denser and thus more walkable. 

Retaining or improving their attractiveness as a place not only to shop but to work and live gives people the option to use their car less and their legs more – thereby walking themselves to health and fitness. 

Less Riots(!)

There is such as thing as society and its greatest manifestation is your nearest high street or town centre. The Greeks kicked it all off with their 'Agoras' (def: a public open space used for assemblies and markets) and the Romans with 'Bread & Circus' (def: something, as extravagant entertainment, offered as an expedient means of pacifying discontent or diverting attention from a source of grievance (the summer riots anyone?!)).

Financial sustainability/affordability (given modest infrastructure requirement)

Town centres and high streets require little or no significant infrastructure to service new development thus enabling much needed housing and social infrastructure (eg affordable housing, senior living) to be provided relatively cost effectively. 


Sustainability

People living in central locations emit less green house gases

Residents of sprawling neighbourhoods tend to emit more pollution per person. Research shows that low-density suburban development is more energy and green house gas intensive (by a factor of 2.0–2.5) than high-density urban core development on a per capita basis.

But remember...its not easy being green