There’s no doubt that retail and hospitality won’t be dominating our inner cities for very much longer. Which also presents great opportunities for turning what are now shopping areas into greener, more appealing, more social and more local spaces. This transformation, she says, can be attained by pursuing a tailored approach. ‘Working collectively to achieve our ideal vision.’
In the week in which the Mall of the Netherlands, the largest indoor shopping centre in the Netherlands, opened its doors, writing in the NRC, Tracy Metz called for an end to the high street in ‘Weg met de winkelstraat’. She claims that the inevitable shakeout in retail and hospitality now offers opportunities for turning what are now shopping areas into greener, more appealing, more social and more local spaces. Great places that serve needs other than simply retail and hospitality, because ‘there’ll come a time when we’ll reach coffee shop saturation point’. Amen. A fantastic vision of the future. Yet the en masse transformation’s yet to begin.
This shakeout is on its way—there’s no ignoring it. 10 to 30 percent of the non-food shops are set to disappear, as well as around 20 to 30 percent of the hospitality industry. And this is going to leave gaping holes in our high streets. You can’t help feeling that to deny this trend now is a bit like Kodak cold-shouldering the rise of digital photography until it killed them.
In any case, we need to find a new use for all of those vacant shops and abandoned bars. Handicrafts, healthcare, culture, workplaces, housing, education, or a community hub. And we need to move fast, because an empty high street jeopardises the quality of life and appeal of our neighbourhoods and communities.
Yet, with a few exceptions, there’s not a lot happening when it comes to transformation. As is usually the case in our society, the issue is money. The big losers are the commercial real estate owners. Retail and hospitality yield a higher return on investment than any other function in their properties. Try persuading them to downgrade and transform. For the private owner, it means a considerable drop in earnings, and a big dent in the funds of many investors, often in capital linked to our pensions. And, since banks refuse to finance these kinds of transformations and many councils lack the capacity to facilitate them, there are very few incentives to take immediate action.
But if these parties don’t take action, entrepreneurs and residents in particular, will have to make do with dismal, empty streets. So let’s be realistic and recognise that this isn’t simply a task for the real estate sector. We’ll need to get the transformation underway together. Entrepreneurs, councils, and residents, will join hands to realise this vision. We’re all responsible for helping to create the kind of streets that Tracy is talking about.
This means a tailor-made approach for each individual shopping street or centre. Partnering with the stakeholders that have an interest in the place, and embedded in a shared vision and ambition. Which involves more than just filling vacant premises. After all the ideal vision is to be greener, more appealing, more social and more local. Taking an integrated approach means that other local tasks, such as the energy transition, accessibility and the greening of public space, can be tackled immediately. With a council that frees up capacity to facilitate and stimulate. Retail and hospitality entrepreneurs who create and innovate. Real estate parties that depreciate and transform their property where needed. And with locals who co-create and, of course, continue to enjoy and enliven the high street. If we work collectively, Tracy’s ideal for the future may be closer than you think.
This column was published in Dutch on gebiedsontwikkeling.nu