High Streets and Town Centres: Adaptive Strategies

A comprehensive guide that is based on a review of London’s high streets, with the aim to promote adaptive frameworks and strategies that can lead in the development of better, inclusive and more resilient high streets.

Date added 23 July 2020
Last updated 23 July 2020

This comprehensive guidance for high streets and town centres was created as part of the Mayor of London’s Good Growth by Design programme, which aimed to promote and support a framework that would allow high streets and town centres to adapt and diversify. The guidance takes a broader and more inclusive look of the elements of high streets, stressing their everyday, social, communal, and civic functions and advocating for the creation of adaptive strategies that are characterised by adaptable planning, early adoption, evolutionary development, continuous improvement and flexible responses.


Throughout the guidance, place management strategies that are based on collaboration, working in partnership, and community-led governance are introduced, which is a welcome shift from traditional ‘best practice’ models that normally fail to grasp the particularities of our high streets. These strategies should aim to reinstate the notion of “public value”, with public purpose at the heart of how organisations interact, and by by considering how choices are made about occupancy, inter-dependency and cooperation between different stakeholders, as Professor Mariana Mazzucato states at page 16 of the guidance.


She further goes on to highlight that “mission-oriented policies and approaches – those that are challenge-driven, outcomes-focused, and aimed at solving certain problems, rather than investing in specific sectors – can be vital for our high streets” (page 17), and the high street, as a unique geographic and cultural platform that enables cross-sectoral and cross-actor collaborations, can “harness the power of public, private, and citizen actors towards missions which create and sustain public value”. As such, high streets can promote the delivery of wide- ranging public value and greater local impact.


The unique characteristics and the complexities of high streets also allow for the development of a platform for continuous investment in the areas of social integration, wellbeing, environmental sustainability, civic and cultural spaces, and data and use of technology. The guidance makes a case for a strategic approach towards place development with strong local support, but also highlights the main challenges that hinder such plans and the need to adapt to those. These are analysed extensively in the guidance, and are:


  • Changing social habits and expectations
  • The evolving consumer economy
  • Adapting to and mitigating climate change
  • Delivering intensification and mix
  • Delivering on housing demand
  • Managing data, digitalisation and technology
  • Austerity and the loss of social infrastructure
  • Unacceptable levels of pollution and congestion
  • Evolving jobs and work styles
  • Changes to public amenities and civic services
  • Rethinking of traditional governance structures


The remainder of the report presents numerous case studies from London’s high streets, which highlight the innovative approaches taken to tackle different challenges. As the report states, all case studies “show leadership, shared and clear goals and possible solutions to meet stated concerns and ambitions” (page 81). A series of propositions summarises the collective learnings and the possibilities to develop more ‘adaptive’ strategies for high streets:


  • Support the high street economy for a future shaped by experience and convenience
  • Creatively reuse vacant or underused retail units and department stores to support strategic values
  • Build on what already exists to plan for a successful mix of activities and uses on the high street
  • Ensure existing community value is retained and enhanced within a process of change and significant restructuring
  • Use data insight to support businesses on the high street
  • Promote social integration and deliver social value through enterprise on the high street
  • Make the high street a model for sustainable living and public well-being
  • Enable a flourishing culture for work on the high street
  • Adapt the high street to support cultural and civic life to foster social inclusion and interaction
  • Embed community participation as part of a long term strategy for the high street


Overall, the guidance is an important resource for all place leaders and managers that strive to make high streets genuinely inclusive, participative, accessible, equitable, innovative and prosperous places. The principles of developing adaptive strategies (pages 218-220) are summarised below:


  • Be mission-oriented and define change
  • Create long-term participatory structures
  • Develop organisational resource and skills over time
  • Support inclusive economies
  • Design and plan for intense, mixed uses
  • Manage assets innovatively
  • Experiment and prototype
  • Evaluate in a dynamic way and digitally transform