Britain is currently experiencing a perceived crisis in terms of the sustainability of high streets and town centres. Whereas major city centres appear to be thriving, smaller towns and places are losing their retail functionality and footfall is declining. What can be done to restore British centres therefore has become a concern for local communities and subject to national government policy intervention.
A neglected space in the debates about the future high streets are district centres. These are often neighbourhood centres comprising a group of shops, separate from the town centre, usually containing at least one food supermarket or superstore and non-retail service uses such as banks, building societies and restaurants.
These are important places as they help shape the liveability of neighbourhoods, providing everyday services and necessities, together with sites for leisure and social interaction and exchange. A key challenge, however, is that retail, banking, estate agents and travel agents have been disrupted by technological change, which has led to the withdrawal of these functions from many places. This has left voids and vacancies.
It is timely therefore to reimagine what these places might be, how they might better serve local communities, both now and in the near future. This may mean a return to the traditional function of local centres, as meeting places for the local communities, as spaces of leisure, comprising good public realm and meeting places.
Students from Manchester School of Architecture worked in collaboration with the Institute of Place Management to reimagine five district centres in Manchester, to create proposals for vibrant, liveable and sustainable High Streets. Work exhibited in the ESRC Festival 04-07 November 2019 in the Benzie Vertical Gallery.