Real Estate

Buildings - Letters

Many urban spaces are being neglected due to deindustrialisation, retail parks (suburbanisation) and changing demographics, resulting in an abundance of vacant buildings and spaces spread throughout urban areas. Shifting populations, changing markets, and the apprehension of financial commitment have contributed to the neglect of these buildings, producing desolate areas within cities and devastating urban landscape.

With big multi nationals stores swallowing the minds and spending patterns of the masses and the space that is left consumed by pound stores, It’s no surprise that pound stores are one the fastest growing group of shops in many town centres. Retail parks are killing town centre trade all over the country with High Street store owners not being able to compete with the larger stores at retail parks where they have free parking, modern cafe’s and all the stores they need in the same area. The under performing stores in town centres say ‘We need more footfall’ but customers have no reason to come unless you are a specialist or niche store. There is a clue here trying to fight the growth of the retail park is futile.

Shopping is about an experience or a bargain and people are not getting an experience in a lot of town centres. Bargains at pound stores can only be a bargain if it’s needed the first place, the sad truth people often leave a pound store with an armful of things they don’t or ‘might’ need in the future. Once upon a time there was very few retail parks or any online purchases which made business great for town centres. We only have to look at the figures for the most recent Black Friday more than 50% of the trade was made online.

There is a solution however. One has to define and create their own market and put a stake in the ground of who they are as a business. They have to stand for something or they will fall for everything. The experience at Costa, McDonalds and Dixon’s is the same one sees them on every high street where town centres have become homogenised. The exodus is now leading to the retail park as the stores get larger they have less rates, less store managers and staff to pay and less electricity. Their interest is in their profit, they are a business – profit is king, the experience is secondary.

The solution lies in creating an experience that a retail park cannot replicate thus avoiding direct competition. By attracting a discerning shopper who is not looking for the Costa, McDonalds or Dixon’s experience. We propose that the revitalisation of underused, vacant, and neglected buildings and spaces can be transformed through the implementation of temporary uses, such as pop-up environments, slow food markets, new growth of small businesses, start-ups, and local entrepreneurship’s by encouraging the utilisation of temporary use neglected or unused buildings and spaces by introducing the use of temporary pop-up environments. Temporary uses could have the potential of adding activity to these sites presenting new opportunity for their use in regenerating blighted areas.

If we look at areas such as Hackney, Shoreditch and Peckham we will see the massive changes that have happened in these boroughs . The regeneration began with artists. You will notice that in each case regeneration has a predictable cycle that goes like this:

Artists and innovators move in and use neglected spaces because we see the potential in everything because we are creative.The run down areas are often cheap to rent which is good for an artist or creative as they are often not in the best financial position themselves – We aim to change this too.

  1. Artists and artisans transform the area and put their mark on the spaces.
  2. Then the trendies move in –  they are not interested in retail parks. This is when the extra footfall begins – This is never the first step
  3. Young families then become attracted to the area because residential properties still remain relatively cheap and the area becomes ‘cool’
  4. Modern businesses and start ups are attracted to the area
  5. Unsophisticated investors arrive, the sophisticated ones are already in there
  6. Rent and house prices go up and artists move out because the area becomes too expensive. Then the cycle begins again – artists become a victim of their own success

We aim to arm locals with business knowledge to help them grow with the area in order to avoid gentrification or should I say gentifricleansing. Research suggests that temporary change of neglected buildings and spaces by introducing a freshness and ‘vibe’ that young designers and artists create. Case studies suggest that temporary use and social factors have the possibility of establishing new meaning to abandoned buildings and/or spaces and to facilitate change in the area.

Rather than be a follower lead the regeneration of your area using the arts but arm yourself with a business approach or you will get pushed aside. Be brave.

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