While high streets and town centres are continually renewing, the ubiquitous and constricting one-way systems put in place in the 1960s persist.
Government initiatives abound – National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Active Travel, 15-minute neighbourhoods, Cycle Infrastructure Design, local authorities implementing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and adopting climate change emergency policies – and yet these outmoded legacies of car-centric designs remain.
One-way systems are often documented as being responsible for creating ‘twilight’ areas – ‘cut off, with dwindling facilities, shrinking population and deteriorating urban fabric’ (Ravetz, A. 1986). Does this describe what’s happening to a town centre or high streets near you?
Connectivity is a vital component of healthy neighbourhoods. Aside from the much written about imbalance of uses, retail decline and increased vulnerability (as the last year and a half has shown) of town centre and high street neighbourhoods there are these engineered solutions that also need to be addressed.
Taking a holistic approach and thinking about how we can make resilient, attractive and active places we have identified a series of spatial, urban design tactics that could help improve our town centres:
1.Revert the one-way systems to two-way streets with space for cyclists and pedestrians creating a network that addresses redundant journeys and provides direct access.
2. Remove stopping up on roads that can connect to these systems to make more junctions and crossings to connect the surrounding neighbourhoods to the town centre for everyone.
3. De-prioritise vehicles from spatial planning of town centres, while prioritising the space they carve out.
4. Provide more parking on streets – to afford better access for those who need it and reduce speeds.
5. Rethink parking strategies, centralised vs disparate private car parks, metering & control vs free.
6. A joined-up landscape, softscape and hardscape strategy, prioritising the introduction of more softscape, to improve the quality of public realm, improve air quality, reduce heat island effect, create shelter and support wildlife.
While there can be no one-size-fits-all, there are places where a suite of measures can have a palpable effect for the good, and equally and contradictorily where these same tactics are already in place and are failing.
By maintaining a holistic view, we can demonstrate what benefits this urban design approach can bring, balancing competing demands to craft and curate compelling, meaningful places.
The Design team is working across multi-disciplinary teams and sectors to enable the changes that are necessary for high streets and town centre neighbourhoods to flourish; places where it feels good to walk and cycle to, places for kids to play, places where we want to spend time and places that we can easily see ourselves getting to that are welcoming, active and safe.