Shops now just a click away from oblivion
Could town centres be more fun without shops? As online retailers take over more and more traditional stores, planners are thinking of ingenious new ways to lure us back to the high street.
The girl wakes up excited. At last, it is here: 2 February 2022 – her 16th birthday! She and her friends will head into town for some shopping at their favourite stores, Topshop and Miss Selfridge. But then she remembers: the shops are no longer there.
Topshop and Miss Selfridge are two of the well-known names about to disappear from Britain’s city centres. It has been announced that the online retailer Asos is buying the brands, along with Topman and HIIT. But it will not sell their products through shops.
These deals have banished any remaining hope that shopping might keep city centres alive. Between them, Asos and Boohoo will empty 15 million square feet of retail space.
Before take-overs, British high streets had empty space equivalent to one shop in eight. The question is: what do we do with our town centres? If they are to thrive, other ways of bringing people in have to be found.
Suggestions include turning shops into homes, offices, gyms, sports arenas, health spas and entertainment centres.
Town centres could be opened up for those they are not currently geared to, such as old people, young families and pet owners.
Could town centres be more fun without shops?
No. There is no more enjoyable way to spend a Saturday than going into a shop. A huge number of things bought online are sent back. The more we return, the more delivery vans there will be, adding to traffic and pollution. Whatever else is in high streets, shops will be needed to make them vibrant.
Yes. Most town centres are grim and lacking in character. You see the same chain stores, and shopping is a slog when you have to carry bags around with you and walk miles to a car park or bus stop. It would be better if they were places where people lived or just went to relax and enjoy themselves.
- Should there be any limit on the hours that shops open?
- Imagine that your school is to be turned into a public centre for leisure activities. Draw a detailed plan showing what all the different parts of it could be used for.
Some People Say...
“Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like.”Will Smith (1968 - ), American actor
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- It is generally agreed that the development of suburban shopping malls was a disaster for many cities, particularly in America. Once affluent people started spending their money there rather than going into the town centres, the latter became run-down and crime-ridden. Detroit, a prime example, became known as “the murder capital of the USA” after the failure of planners to address the problem.
- What do we not know?
- One main area of debate is around why town-centre shopping is in such a state of collapse. Lockdowns clearly have much to do with it, but some argue that they have merely accelerated an existing process, caused by the failure of traditional shops to modernise. The shops’ owners say that it is impossible for them to compete with companies like Asos because, in addition to the expense of their buildings, they pay far more tax than online retailers.
- The brand owed much of its success to persuading top designers such as Hussein Chalayan and celebrities such as Kate Moss to produce lines for it.
- Miss Selfridge
- A spin-off of the Selfridges department store, it was launched in the 1960s. Its first dresses were made of paper and designed to be thrown away after use.
- Short for “As seen on stars”: it started out by selling clothes inspired by outfits featured in films and on TV.
- Hard, persistent work. To slog is to plod perseveringly through difficulty.