Greenwich Town Centre plans for an active, cultural public realm

Greenwich Town Centre plans for an active, cultural public realm

Christmas came early this year for some local authorities and community organisations in London. The Mayor of London’s High Streets for All (HSFA) Challenge selected 15 projects from a longlist of 35 “exemplar projects” to receive grants ranging from £80,000 to £300,000.

Fourth Street had the pleasure of co-writing the successful bid for Greenwich Town Centre, marshalling the input of Visit Greenwich, Royal Borough of Greenwich, and the Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency, as well as valuable contributions from cultural, community, business and educational partners. This broad group of partners is itself a reflection of the high street: a rich ecosystem that is strengthened by the diversity of uses and users.

High streets are meant to be busy – alive with the activity created by places to eat, shop, socialise, live, work, learn, meet and play. The intention of the High Streets for All funding is to bring vacant sites back in to use, creating places which support local economies and connected communities. Judging from the description of successful applications, community support was a clear priority – successful projects will support community and social enterprise, youth hubs and activities, healthy living initiatives, and measures to make a more inclusive economy. The map below shows the locations of funded projects and the relative size of funding award.

Map of High Streets for All Challenge funding - round 1

It’s not just about transitioning high streets away from an over-reliance on retail, or reaching blindly for the next best thing to fill vacant space. What we’ve lost with the decline of high street shopping isn’t the ability to buy more stuff. It’s the opportunity for social connection that high streets traditionally provided. The many daily interactions that are the difference between ‘property’ and ‘place’. A social space that welcomes anyone who walks through the door.

How can high streets further support these kinds of non-transactional exchange?

Greenwich town centre will welcome residents and visitors back to its markets and public spaces with a series of new events and a much more creative market experience. It will be a platform for performance and activity led by local creatives – a showcase for local talent.

The town centre will strike a better balance between the need to serve residents and tourists. Market traders will be supported to connect with new customers. More than this, it empowers local people, traders, cultural institutions, and businesses to activate public realm and think imaginatively about what kind of town centre they can create together.

Importantly, the successful High Streets for All projects are not fully formed and polished. HSFA is backing partnerships more than ‘plans’ – the final product will be shaped collaboratively with the community. Outcomes should be as organic and representative of multiple interests as the high streets themselves. Fourth Street is now embarking on a new piece of work with Royal Borough of Greenwich to develop a Night Time Economy strategy, creating a supportive framework for all aspects of evening activity in Greenwich Town Centre.

Almost all of the awarded projects are activating some vacant or under-used space. This is an important moment for London to show that a new mix of uses can transform places, and that community and cultural uses bring real and demonstrable benefit to the community.

Related Thinking.