High Street Regeneration – Suburban Style

One of my local town centres got funding from The Mayor of London to regenerate its high street.

I was there this morning, so thought I would give a quick run-down of what has been done.

There was a fund for new shop fronts, and here are a few examples of the end results:
Sidcup Shop Fronts 1

Sidcup Shop Fronts 2

Having a shop-front improvement scheme or project is a good idea – it’s the sort of thing I have proposed and would have done. It is good to show other shop-keepers what can be done fairly cheaply, and it is well known that when the neighbours improve others are more likely to follow. However, although these are an improvement on what was there before, they do somehow leave me cold.

A hub for new, small, businesses has been set up, incorporating a Box-Shop

Sidcup Box Shop

Again, the sort of thing I have gone on about (and is quite common now), but I do wonder to what extent these ‘pop-up’ like things work in outer-London suburbia. I wonder if an outer London borough, which has a large proportion of low wage earners, has enough of a market for the sort of things being sold in here. I don’t know the answer to this, and part of the point of such ‘pop-ups’ is to test the market, but it will be interesting to see what happens once the funding runs out.

Another part of the improvement strategy is re-paving of the pavement

Sidcup Paving 1

I am not convinced by this. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the public realm is important but who is really going to visit a high street to see the new pavement?

The junction seen to the right of the above photograph has also been repaved, but across the whole width of the road, and I would have extended the re-paving right across the above junction to calm the road and create more of a place where a few small events could have been squeeqed in.

This is the junction from the otherside:

Sidcup Paving 2

As I said, the new paving has been extended to include the road surface to create a little bit of space outside of the library for events, but this should have been extended across the whole of the junction with the High Street. With a limited budget, I would have extended the new paving across whole junctions along the High Street in preference to replacing the pavements only along the entire High Street.  If treated as a whole, this junction and other junctions could have changed the feel of the High Street.

I suspect that one of this High Street’s problems wasn’t so much the look of the previous pavement but this sort of thing:

Sidcup Parking Sign

This seems to be saying ‘We don’t really want your custom – and anyway there is so little to do here that it can be done in under 2 hours’.

On the whole I would have spent the money on putting on events, paying off the local authority to provide free parking, and paying a consultant to negotiate lower rents for the independent shop-keepers. And I would have provided something to attract the 100s of full-time dance students who are based a few hundred yards away but are noticable by their absence on the High Street.

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The Problem with Regeneration

This poster, seen on a site in central London, sums up what is wrong with the way some people view Urban Regeneration and Growth:
Your efforts bring us victory

It is OUR vision which will be imposed on YOU.

Good Regeneraton takes place with people – not to them.

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The taxless recovery

Originally posted on Flip Chart Fairy Tales:

This is no ordinary recovery. Not only has it taken a hell of a long time to do not very much, it’s seen collapsing productivity and very little wage growth, even for those who appear to be highly skilled. As a result of all this, even though the economy grew at over 3 percent, the tax revenues didn’t increase at the same rate.

As Sarah O’Connor reported in the FT:

[T]ax receipts have grown just 2 per cent so far this year, compared with the 5 per cent growth the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in March.

As Ben Chu’s chart shows, most of the rise in tax revenue since the recession is due to VAT.

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Record numbers of people in employment, it seems, hasn’t led to record levels of income tax.

When you break out the figures for income tax, as Michael O’Connor did earlier this week, there is a marked difference between receipts…

View original 359 more words

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The persistence of poverty, and gentrification

With the usual caveat to do with anything from the USA; that we cannot transfer ideas and lessons for there direct into the UK, this Pod-cast from The Knight Foundation by Joe Cartright has a number of interesting headline points:

http://www.urbanophile.com/2014/09/24/neighborhood-poverty-dynamics/

Amongst the interesting points made are:

On the whole, poverty persists over time in the poorest neighbourhoods;

Those poor areas which have rebounded have gained population, and those which haven’t improved have lost population (but we don’t know about the actual people in these places due to lack of study and evidence);

It is bad to be poor but it is worse to be poor in places where lots of your neighbours are also poor;

All poor neighbourhoods tend to lack political clout;

Don’t concentrate poverty;

Over the last 30 to 40 years the number of neighbourhoods with concentrated poverty has tripled – although some places have gentrified, on the whole concentrated poverty has grown and is the problem;

There has been a slow and steady deterioration in poor neighbourhoods over time which has been too slow to notice;

The few poor places which have improved tend to be close to urban cores, and the poor areas are spreading out into suburbia;

Stopping the gentrification of poor neighbourhoods doesn’t stop these places from getting worse or even staying the same – they tend to get worse and poorer;

If ‘we’ are concerned about the poor, gentrification is the least of our concerns. There needs to be a halt in the intensification of poverty, and opportunities need to be expanded;

The places where there is most talk about the problems of gentrification are in the ‘1% Cities’ (such as New York and San Francisco) because these are where people are being forced out by incomers;

Building great places helps everyone.

Some interesting points and observations, and as I say we need to be careful in making these lessons to take straight to the UK.

In my view it is the big economic and political issues which make gentrification an issue and a problem.In addition, in the UK we must create more and better second-order cities as well as creating much better ‘ordinary’ places.

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Kites, Regeneration and Growth

Last weekend I was in the Bridport area, and on Sunday we went to the Kite Festival on Eggardon Hill.
Bridport Kite Festival

Kites 2
But what have kites got to do with Regeneration and Growth?

Well, the Kite festival was organised by a community group of volunteers, and attracted a large number of visitors and participants, with a few SMEs selling food and refeshments.

And to me anything which gets people together, having a good time, in a ‘public’ place, is part of Regeneration and Growth.

When regenerating and growing places, and in growing economies, use what ever assets you have. If you have a hill – use it !

Also, whilst in Bridport, I came across a group which is setting up a Community Owned Enterprise which us trying to be able to develop a large potential development site in a balanced way which contributes to the mix and vibrancy of the town rather than offers a standard, drab, mono-culture, developer led approach. It is going to be interesting how this develops and progresses.

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Is London too small – and how should we fund city services?

Is London too small?

Recently there has been some talk around the question of whether London is too small and if its political boundaries need extending. Some (if not much) of this talk is based on data which shows that there are some commuter towns which are very dependent on London to supply their jobs.

I feel that extending London’s political boundaries will not be politically acceptable to the people who live in these outlying areas; even minor changes to rectify local anomalies yet alone major extension to, say, include places like Dartford into the Greater London Authority. Even now many of London’s existing outer boroughs feel that they are neglected with too much focused on central London, and I imagine this feeling would be even stronger in places outside of the M25 which may be included in an extended Greater London Authority.

So, I can’t see London’s political boundaries being extended.

However, it is vital that those outside of political London, who use its services, do pay a fair share towards the costs of providing these services. There are plenty of examples in the USA where the centre of cities have become problem areas because too many of those who use the services in the core have moved out to surrounding lower taxed areas – they want the benefits of a city without paying the costs.

How do we ensure that those who use a place’s services pay towards the costs of supplying these services if we can’t get the political and economic boundaries to be co-terminus? We could allow the ‘core’ city to charge some sort of tax surcharge to the outlying areas (a precept of some sort), but there is no political or democratic control (from the point of view of those being taxed) in doing this, so to me this is a non-starter.

Although we can improve some of the political and economic boundaries so that they more closely match each other to minimize the amount of ‘free loading’, I think the complications and grey areas are so great that on the whole this cannot be done with any great accuracy.

Therefore, I think this stresses to importance of the role of central government in collecting taxes and re-distributing them to make the whole country and its constituent parts work for everyone.

It is this continuing need for re-distribution from the centre that needs to be recognized by those who seem to believe that localization of tax raising powers to local government is the solution to under-funding problems. In a nutshell the issues are: Firstly, the political boundaries (and thus taxation boundaries) do not match the economic boundaries and although can be improved will not be changed to any great extent; Secondly, most places in the UK outside of London do not have sufficient tax base from which to raise more taxes and so depend on transfers from central government; Finally, the last thing we need is for neighbouring local authority areas to enter into a complicated tax versus services bidding war – the UK is too small for this not to end in tears.

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Where is Mid-Town?

This is an old gripe of mine – but where is ‘Mid-Town’?

Midtown Poster

This is a continuation of the any-town, ‘clone town’, approach to London which will eventually remove the very things  which makes London such a great and successful city.

 

 

 

 

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