Why Creating Communities around Shopping Centres is Good Business

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I recently read a great piece in Retail Week by Intu on ‘why creating communities around shopping centres is good business’. As someone who grew up in Merseyside when Kirkby, Skelmersdale and Runcorn were still known as ‘new towns’, the piece reminded me of the way many of the post war new towns, which also include Telford, Livingstone and Milton Keynes, were constructed.

There were good social reasons for building these new towns around the country and the way they were designed is particularly interesting. Unlike ‘older’ towns, where the high street was historically at the centre of the community, the new towns I am familiar with have no real high street at all. Instead, they were created with a purpose built town (retail) centre, shopping centre or shopping parade, as part of the wider plan to serve the community.

In some ways, the Retail Week article suggests that future developments should adopt a similar concept, only this time starting with the retail centre and then creating the community around it – a little bit like ‘Field of Dreams’ – ‘build it and they will come’! If the land or space is available, the shortcomings of what has gone before can be addressed by ensuring leisure is a big part of what is being constructed. As long as the elements required to create a sense of purpose for the community are present, people will continually be attracted to ‘the centre’.

As people are becoming more aware of their impact on the environment, cutting out the need to travel great distances to shop will certainly benefit all. In fact, the retail centre of the community could also be the transport hub with links being built for the transport connections of the future. In some ways, there could be a complete reversal to the out of town shopping centres as travel impact starts to outweigh travel costs. However, the out of town shopping centres could become the seeds for these communities to grow.

The idea of re-shaping what has gone before lends itself to the New Urbanism movement, which is particularly popular in the USA.

New Urbanism is a planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns had been built for the last several centuries: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity and accessible public spaces. In other words: New Urbanism focuses on human-scaled urban design.

*Taken from CNU (Congress for New Urbanism)

In some ways, Liverpool ONE could be seen as following this path, a new retail centre in the city, inclusive of leisure and residential. Similar developments are also common in other cities and Hammerson has plans to re-develop Birmingham’s Martineau Galleries site into a new city centre neighbourhood, based around the new HS2 terminal.

There are several ways of looking at the best path to creating the (retail) communities of the future, whether building around a retail centre or re-developing the space where a community already exists. Either way, it is vital to protect the future of these hubs by building in reasons for involvement across leisure and community activities and transport (or reducing transport).

As someone who works for an organisation that supports the retail industry with commercialisation, I believe that having a space for pop-up activities is key when it comes to creating a sense of public involvement and engagement.

A retail centre with pop-up space remains fresh and exciting, continuously allowing the public access to new experiences and making way for promotional events and experiential activities. Going back to the future with dedicated space for traditional style markets, whether weekly or seasonal, can really help attract shoppers, while also supporting local businesses. If developers can learn from the ‘new towns’ of the past, I will be very optimistic about what’s in store for the future.

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