Last week saw the release of the #GrimseyReview Covid supplement, #BuildBackBetter. It’s the third iteration of an important body of work that reflects on the changes in #towncentres and offers a suite of recommendations to help turn towns around.
We have the pleasure and privilege of working with some amazing land owners and local authorities doing some outstanding things to support their towns, communities and economies. Three of the interventions that we’re making together feature in the Grimsey Review, Camberley, Weston-super-Mare, and Banbury. We’re often asked “what does good look like” for towns, and the truth is that ‘good’ will be different in each place. What’s vital is getting the approach right. Places fail where there is a simple reaction to something, where there is a cookie-cutter approach that lands in a town because it’s worked somewhere else. Places succeed where the interventions are well-researched, collaborative and offer something that is locally compelling, that instil a sense of pride and support local growth. That might be about culture, access to services, public spaces, incubation for business growth, affordable housing, the list goes on. But it's about authenticity of vision.
What sits at the heart of all of this however, is leadership and collaboration. This doesn’t mean endless consultation and analysis paralysis, this means bringing people together, reflecting the actuality and the aspiration of a place, and building a steady stream of interventions to create overall positive change. The leadership can, and usually is, provided by our forward-thinking councils, but they need support from business, land owners and other parts of the public sector to succeed.
It is not without its challenges. The things people want and need are affordable housing, green spaces, education, culture, health and opportunity. Funding these things presents a challenge to us all, whatever background we’re from. This too requires innovation of thought and creativity of approach to development. It needs a harmonious approach between public and private sectors, landlords and tenants, borrowers and lenders. These are big questions but nothing insurmountable. Einstein said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over yet expecting a different result. If ever there was a time for innovation in our town centres, it's now.
Turning a town around takes patience, good ideas, and calls on the right experts at the right time. Show leadership with a framework that illustrates a clear plan for the future of the town, but isn’t so restrictive that it stymies innovation. Our towns and urban centres are what keeps society functioning, let’s celebrate their uniqueness and make them stronger, together.