Spring 2020 will be one for the history books as Covid-19 takes hold across the globe. But we need to start the thinking about what we could be facing on the other side, and take advantage of the opportunities where they exist, says placemaking consultant BEN STEPHENSON.
The rolling news cycle is both excruciating and addictive, with small, incremental developments about the spread of coronavirus available at every page-refresh. It’s exhausting and unhealthy to fixate on the immediate problem without also looking beyond, to how we plan for the recovery.
By Nikos Ntounis, Regine Sonderland Saga, Maria Loronõ-Leturiondo, Tom Hindmarch and Cathy Parker
passing day we are witnessing the unprecedented effects of COVID-19 on the
heart of our cities and towns, as the boundless pandemic is altering – and
potentially displacing – their social and economic role. In the UK, as in other
countries, the implementation of strict public health measures means that the
majority of service-based and non-food retail, hospitality and leisure business
premises remain closed to reduce social contact
(MHCLG, 2020). Footfall, a key metric in
the management of town centres and other commercial areas, has declined since
the lockdown was announced on the 23rd of March. Yesterday (31st of March)
footfall was down 81.4% compared to the same period last year (Springboard, 2020).
The relatively short period of disruption has already triggered the
first wave of store closures (Laura Ashley, BrightHouse, Carluccio’s), impacting
first on the most vulnerable businesses, whose position was fragile even before
the scale of the pandemic and the unprecedented public health response will
mean much more disturbance is yet to come.
Macroeconomic estimates suggest that the economic shock of COVID-19 will
be around 10% of global GDP. This is five times more than the credit and
liquidity problems that caused the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 (Milne,
2020). A massive number of bankruptcies will likely follow, which will put at
risk many jobs and have a significant impact on the attractiveness of many of
our towns and cities. Not only will their offer be reduced as less businesses
come back to our town centres, post-COVID-19 – but there may be less demand for
these businesses in the future. Prolonged lockdown can fundamentally change
consumer behaviour, as people become dependent on having products delivered to
their home. A survey by analyst Retail Economics of 2,000 consumers, quoted in
The Guardian, found that two-thirds of shoppers said they had switched to purchasing
products online that they have always previously purchased in-store (Inman,
2020). But the increasingly multifunctional town/city is not only at risk of
being obsolescent to shoppers. People used to exercise in their front room, may
not go back to the gym; employees who like working from home may not return to
the office; friends accustomed to socialising online may no longer pop down the
I recently had the opportunity to visit the town of Emsdetten(Westphalia, Germany), invited by the mayor’s office, in order to discuss the possibilities of a new Town Centre Management scheme. Emsdetten is a small town of 35,000 inhabitants in Westphalia, close to the city of Münster. Its centre, defined by a ring road and comprising approximately one tenth of the whole area, mainly consists of semi-pedestrianized streets and a locally important retail sector. What is however striking, is that in this rather wealthy town, where unemployment is low (under 4%) and medium income high, there are more and more empty shops. What exactly is happening here? And, furthermore, what can a future Town Centre Management do?
The IPM has been collecting and analysing similar information from UK cities for a long time , looking both at the factors that contribute to a place’s vitality and to broader trends in retail (e.g. the HSUK2020 and BDSU projects) . Whereas the UK experience cannot be directly transferred to Germany, there are however several phenomena that we observe – e.g. growth of online retail, changes in customer expectations, lifestyle differentiation, income disparities – across borders in many European locations. Continue reading “Town Centre Management in Emsdetten, Germany”→
The recent crowd reaction to an incident at Oxford Circus Underground station highlights the escalating risks to crowds in places of public assembly. Namely, the crowds are reacting to incidents (real or perceived) very differently to how they reacted a few years ago.