The pandemic has been difficult for thousands of business owners. What was once a relatively stable market has been upturned, with working practices, consumer habits, and business currents changing dramatically since the early months of 2020. The result is instability, especially for firms that relied upon footfall that lockdowns quickly put an end to. Happily, projects are in place to rebuild confidence in retail shopping and in town centers, and this article looks at some of those in detail to reassure businesses and encourage consumers to head back to the center of their towns or cities.
One of the things that many people reported being happy about during the pandemic was the lack of traffic on the roads. For many, it was the first time they could see their town centers without the fumes, noise, and stress of traffic moving through it. Councils and other local authorities were often quick to set up larger bicycle lanes, which have remained since the end of the pandemic. Other traffic calming measures have been put in place to reduce congestion in pedestrian-heavy areas.
The result is a far more comfortable shopping experience for those who enjoy heading into a town center. Reducing traffic means that cycling is safer and public transport is easier to use. For pedestrians, it means that they can shop in greater peace, seeing what were once busy roads replaced with plant pots and other traffic calming measures. In some towns, pedestrianization is likely to become the norm, banishing all but essential vehicles to ring roads and bypasses.
Meanwhile, the death of the high street has been reversed by new investments in a number of key central urban areas. These property investments have been driven by the relatively low interest in properties and rent, which in turn has made it easier for investors to see the value of building new and exciting developments in the center of towns. Many of these are mixed-use developments, which means they contribute to both residential and commercial or business premises, which is the key to regenerating a city or town center.
New developments in Bristol are a wonderful example of how this can work. Taking place in several central areas, they bring together people who are looking for affordable rent – either students or young professionals – with stores that are able to open to service them. This is exactly what town planners are looking for in their urban mix of properties and can help plan for town and city centers that thrive with commerce and activity.
For the past ten years, a number of businesses have seen the online world as a more profitable place to do business. With fewer overheads and a larger market, it’s no surprise that they’ve rushed online to capture more customers with far lower acquisition costs. Among those services to have largely shut down and moved online are video rental stores – replaced by streaming services – and banks, which have built apps that are used by the majority of retailers in the UK.
Still, this trend now seems to have reached its zenith and is actually reversing in many areas. Banks are now looking to open new branches in key centers, as they’re aware that their most profitable lines of business require a face-to-face touch to get over the line. Meanwhile, cafes have received a huge boost from the remote working revolution, which is seeing far higher footfall in coffee shops or co-working spaces. Overall, then, town and city centers look set to expand and grow, with fewer vacant lots in the coming years.
Finally, it’s impossible to discuss the regeneration of town centers without referencing the action of local communities who want their town centers to be vibrant places to visit rather than barren and derelict places that are falling into disrepair and disrepute. With local organizations campaigning for years, they are being listened to by their councils and by the businesses they are based in town centers. The message has resounded loud and clear: citizens want a town center they can be proud of, not one they want to stay away from at all costs.
With this form of community action driven by concerned citizens and by businesses that are keen to regenerate town centers, there’s likely a great change due to take place in a number of areas. These campaigns are something you can get involved with, too, helping to pressure and advocate for change in the town or city that you love.
These changes are set to help many towns and city centers regenerate in the coming years after a tough and stressful pandemic.