MUSIC, HIGH STREET REGENERATION AND COLLECTIVE ACTION
Guest post by Kat Hanna.
To kick start the Sound Diplomacy events calendar for 2019 and to engage with an increasingly hot topic concerning the urban planning and culture sectors, we hosted Sound Development, our quarterly mini-series discussion at East London’s newest destination, Republic.
We’ve invited our event chair Kat Hanna to provide an overview of the discussion from the event.
Tuesday February 5th, Republic, East India Dock
Whether it’s the almost daily announcement of closures or the empty units that have left high streets looking like gap-toothed smiles, the need for high street regeneration is hard to avoid. Yet while the symptoms of their struggle may be obvious, the cause is harder to diagnose. Too much retail. Not enough quality retail. The rise of online shopping. The decline of community.
As any well-assembled panel will tell you, the answer, of course, is that many high streets are struggling for a number of reasons, and so their regeneration will require a range of solutions. What these solutions have in common, however, is the ability to bring together a range of people to a specific place. In doing so, high streets not only offer what online shopping cannot – shared, embodied, human experience and interaction.
The evening provided many examples of how music can help address the symptoms of a struggling high street. Dave Gray from Wrexham talked about the transformation of a former JJB Sports store into a community hub, focused around music, yet flexible enough to host exhibitions, meet-ups and all manner of events. Architects Tom and James Teatum emphasised the benefits of high streets that accommodate a range of uses, including residential and manufacturing, rather than simply retail.
But to use music to simply fill empty retail units is to overlook the full potential of music – not just as a source of demand for space, but as a vital contributor to local economies, communities, and individuals themselves. Just as Julia Jones was keen to point out the regenerating the high street should be about more than rescuing retailers, music should be used to generate human interactions, as well as just cash transactions.
Too often, the social and retail functions of the high street are presented as being in opposition to one another. In the recent past, there is perhaps some truth in this, as we today lament the passing of high street chains many communities once blamed for killing off independents. Yet as our discussion revealed, what works for the retail functions of the high street can also work for its social functions, and vice versa. Here’s three key takeaways that stand to benefit both these aspects of a successful high street.
A range of spaces can attract a range of uses: A diversified high street means of mix of uses, and a mix of spaces. This requires a supportive, and perhaps more flexible planning system that encourages co-location and celebrates, or at least tolerates activity (including when its noisy and nocturnal). It requires developers to understand the nuanced needs of potential tenants, providing space suitable for both the production and consumption of music. Contrary to some assumptions, this does not always need to be specialised – as Achar Dillon of Killing Moon pointed out.
Experience is everything: What high streets brands sought to offer based on cost and convenience can no longer compete in the age of online shopping. If retailers want to generate footfall, they must provide what cannot be offered with the swipe of a hand. Music may not be the only way of creating this experience, but its universality, adaptability and accessibility make it a particularly powerful way to do so. As Jennifer Wood from Southwark council highlighted, these qualities make music an increasingly common feature in social prescribing – addressing social, physiological and physical problems with non-medical, community-based solutions.
Communicating value: The ability of music-related uses to animate or adapt of underused or ‘awkward’ spaces should not prohibit long-term investment in real-estate that supports the industry. This requires the music sector to focus on setting out its value, to local economies, high streets, and communities, ensuring that the sector is valued in its own right, not only as a tool used for placemaking or promotion.
As Lawrence Jones from Trilogy emphasises, these principles extend beyond the built form of the high street. Successful spaces, including workplaces, are those that offer a mix of experience, that encourage interaction between users, and that can adapt to a range of use, not just during the lifetime of a building, but the daily routines of an individual.
About the Author, Kat Hanna:
KAT HANNA, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, URBAN CHANGE, CUSHMAN AND WAKEFIELD
An experienced urbanist and researcher, Kat Hanna has worked in London politics, planning and policy for the past seven years. Her research interests include urban economies, transport, and the relationship between technology and the built environment. Kat joined Cushman and Wakefield in 2017, focusing on long-term mixed-use development projects in London and trends in how we live, work and move around in cities.
Kat regularly appears as a commentator on urban affairs across a range of publications, media, and events, and was shortlisted for the EG Rising Star Award for 2018.