Early on in 2013 Julian Dobson (director of Urban Pollinators Ltd) visited Stirling and we had an interesting discussion about the state of British retailing, high streets and town centres. He had asked to come up and chat as part of his swing through Scotland as he was preparing his new book – How to Save Our Town Centres. I am not sure what I added to the process, if anything, but Julian was later kind enough to ask me to read over the proofs and if I felt like it, add a comment for the cover.
I certainly did feel like it and wrote:
“A significant and important book that is entertainingly and engagingly written,. Julian Dobson critiques, dissects and then rebuilds the state of our high streets and town centres, arguing coherently for new, locally based, ground-up reconstruction of place and community, and challenges us all to get involved”
Now I have seen the final, recently published version of the book, my view has not altered.
The aim of the book is to get serious about creating places with people, articulating a broader vision for places at the heart of communities. The book sets out a vision for the long term, drawing on achievements in some places in the UK and looks at town centres as places of trade and commerce; places of leisure and sociability; places to live and enjoy. It advocates a citizen-centered agenda for town centres, encompassing the local economy, the built environment and community activity.
The book is structured into two parts:
Part 1 examines where we are today through discussion on the importance of town centres, the failure of retail-led regeneration, the challenges in generating resilient town centers, operations of the market and the role of independent retailing.
Part 2 focuses on tomorrow and what our town centres could be like. Chapters cover the “new” economy, the role of public services and assets, the public realm, and living in town centres. The final three chapters deal with the overarching issues that have to be dealt with to give our town centres a chance: land ownership and access to land, finance and the historic ideas of the “commons”.
To quote the author “this book is about how we can find something better. It is not just about shops and shopping, but about the human needs around which shops and meeting places spring up. It’s about the kind of people we are and want to be, the places we live in, and the kind of society we want”.
If you are interested in high streets and town centres, then this book is one that should be on your reading list. It offers a different view than many out there and provokes thinking about the places we want – readers of this blog will know of my obsession with trying to move away from focusing on high streets to focus on town centers and towns and how people use places and spaces. Julian Dobson takes this to another level.
As I re-read the book I was also struck again by the idea of re-localisation, that has formed part of some my presentations over the past couple of years. As multiple retailers and other multi-nationals or corporates abandon towns so the only alternative becomes local and community energy and effort. What we need to be able to do is to make it easier for this process to happen in places across the country, as in many ways not only might it be “the only game in town” but it might well be the “best game in town”.
As Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership I am delighted to be able to say that Julian Dobson will be doing his Scottish launch of the book as part of our Annual General Meeting and Towns Tea Party on the 13th May 2015 – further details will follow. All are welcome.
Julian Dobson (2015) How to Save Our Town Centres. Policy Press: Bristol. ISBN 978-1-44732-398-8. Available at www.policypress.co.uk
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