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Academic Award commended 2015

Sponsored by Routledge Journals, Taylor & Francis Group




Professor Matthew Carmona, The Bartlett School of Planning, University College London

London's Local High Streets: The Problems, Potential and Complexities of Mixed Street Corridors


About the research

This comprehensive research aims to develop a better insight into the functioning of high streets, to identify their role in supporting sustainable growth and development in the future.

The traditional (sometimes idealised) role of the high street is increasingly being challenged by out-of-town retail, online shopping and the demise of many independent retailers, the rise in car ownership (turning some high streets into 'movement corridors'), and changing life styles (for example, more disposable income and the desire for greater choice). For many people though, the local high street still represents the heart of the community, providing a vital place for social interaction.

As a result, this research takes a more fundamental and wide-ranging look at high streets than much of the previous work in this area, and seeks to understand their role as places with many roles and functions, both strategically (across the city) and also locally. It draws on existing research, national and local policy documents, extensive city-wide mapping, and on-the-ground case studies to understand how London's high streets are fairing and what their future potential is.

Crucially, the research goes beyond the problems facing high streets to recognise their great potential to support much of London's predicted future growth, new jobs, and housing.

As the research shows, high streets are some of the most important spaces in the city and are of far greater complexity and local significance than is often realised. As crucial pieces of physical, social and economic infrastructure, we need to understand how important and complex they are if we are to make the most of their potential to support strategic growth.

"[T]he network of local high streets may be one of London's great unrealised opportunities. [R]ather than placing these complex entities in the 'too difficult to handle category' (where through widespread inaction they currently languish), they could be made a strategic priority in public policy, for public investment and action over a sustained period."

This research is available here from the journal Progress in Planning, published by Elsevier.

Implications for policy and practice

High streets offer significant opportunities for focused public and private investment, building on their existing infrastructure and established communities as the basis for London's future growth, rather than seeking development opportunities in areas without the same advantages. However, this potential is not typically being recognised in policy or practice, and much more could be done by local authorities and others under existing powers, for example purchasing and repurposing abandoned retail units for 'pop up shops', engaging in joint venture companies and so on.

Judge's comment

"This …is about a pretty important issue given the way retail patterns are changing fast in a way that was not predicted even recently. A very thorough literature review and good diagnostics on the empirics."