ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGIATE SCHOOLS OF PLANNING 2019: From Main Street to the High Street? Mobilising Planning and Urban Design Responses to Address City Centre Decline

Event Start Date:
27th October 2019
Event End Date:
27th October 2019
Event Venue:
Gardenia, Greenville, South Carolina, USA

From Main Street to the High Street? Mobilising Planning and Urban Design Responses to Address City Centre Decline

James T White, University of Glasgow


The story of downtown decline in the American city has been well-versed in the literature. The
suburbanisation of housing and retailing, coupled to the ascendency of the automobile, contributed
directly to the hollowing-out of downtown areas (Giusti and Maraschin 2017). Once bustling city streets slipped into decline as big department stores and other business closed their doors. Downtowns, small and large, became mono-use areas where only commercial offices, and their attendant car parks, remained truly viable.

Various planning and urban design strategies to revitalise the declining American downtown have
been trialled by city planners since the late 1970s. These have included pubic realm enhancements, like the creation of pedestrian malls; mega-projects, such as new stadia or music venues; smaller-scale historic preservation initiatives; and, the encouragement of mixed development, especially housing. While the results have been mixed (Faulk 2006), the last decade has seen a new ‘downtown paradigm’ (Birch 2009) emerge in cities across the United States characterised by an emphasis on ‘urban living’ and the creation of dense and walkable central city neighbourhoods with more diverse land uses.
Until now, cities in the UK have largely avoided the dramatic decline experienced in American downtown areas. Despite similar suburbanization trends, most UK city centres have retained a sense of vibrancy

In this paper we will share land use, typology and other diversity and vitality metrics from the mid-sized UK cities of Liverpool, Nottingham and Hull to argue that their experience appears analogous to that faced by American downtowns some forty years before. There is a pressing need for city centre
stakeholders to understand the scale of the problem and find ways to diversify and adapt the existing built environment to develop greater resiliency in the face of continued city centre decline. The paper therefore identifies key similarities and difference between the UK and American experience and asks whether lessons about market intervention, planning incentivization, and typo-morphological innovation that have encouraged downtown revitalisation in America are translatable to the UK. In so doing, our broader aim is to make a theoretical contribution to the growing critical discourse on ‘comparative tactics’ (Robinson 2016) and the mobility of planning policies and design practices (e.g. McCann 2011). In particular, we question whether there is value in drawing lessons from planning and design practices that, on the surface, appear to have occurred in a similar context but took place at a different time and in a differing political and planning policy environment.

Birch, E.L. (2009). Downtown in the “New American City”. The Annals of the American
Academy, 626, pp. 134-153.
Faulk, D. (2006). The Process and Practice of Downtown Revitalization. Review of Policy
Research, 23 (2), pp. 625-645.
Giusti, C. and Maraschin, C. (2017). Downtown revitalization and urban space: A case study in
downtown Bryan, Texas. Cities, 60, pp. 50-63
McCann, E. (2011). Urban policy mobilities and global circuits of knowledge: Toward a research
agenda. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,101 (1), pp. 107-130.
Wrigley, N. and Dolega, L. (2011). Resilience, fragility, and adaptation: new evidence on the
performance of UK high streets during global economic crisis and its policy implications.
Environment and Planning A, 43, pp. 2337-2363.

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