The contribution of local high streets to sustainable communities

This 2007 report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, outlines the contribution of local high streets to sustainable local communities. It investigates daily experiences on mixed-use high streets in three case study areas: Ball Hill in Coventry, London Road in Sheffield, and Upper Tooting in South London. The report demonstrates the role of local high streets in meeting government strategies around public spaces, social inclusion, and sustainability.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

*This resource is more than 5 years old but has been included as it contains information that is still relevant and useful*

This report presents findings from research into the contribution of local high streets to sustainable local communities. Specifically, the focus is on mixed-use high streets, which the authors explain comprises a range of development types, including “a mix of retail, business and public service uses... intermingled with residential dwellings” (p.1).

The researchers sought to understand the significance of three high streets - Ball Hill, Coventry, London Road, Sheffield, and Tooting, South London - to high street users, as spaces to travel through, shop, meet others, and engage in activities. In order to record varied aspects of daily life on these streets, and identify any potential conflicts, the researchers adopted a number of methods, such as traffic and pedestrian counts; community street audits; stakeholder surveys; questionnaire interviews; focus groups; and street observations.

Findings are organised around several key areas, including: mixed-use high streets’ role as links and places; how they are used; what users think of high streets as places; conflicts faced on mixed-use streets; and the role of high streets in sustainable urban communities, as below:

Some key findings

Social inclusion

  • A diverse mix of high street users were observed in each of the three case study locations.
  • Patterns of high street use varied by time and location, reflecting the different lifestyles of different users.
  • People using wheelchairs and pushchairs seemed to be under-represented on the high streets observed, indicating the need for further research into these inclusivity issues.

Street activities

  • Ten main types of activity were observable on the case study high streets, including resting, social interactivity, and shopping.
  • There was a significant 'link’ function across the case studies, with large amounts of traffic and pedestrians 'just passing through’.
  • The main movements of pedestrians were related to more 'place-based’ activities.

Street conflicts

  • Competition between spaces on the high street for various activities and users was apparent, and a source of tension and conflict.
  • The streets studied were used intensively; however, conflicts were identified between pedestrians and busy traffic.
  • There were some safety issues around public transport interchanges due to lack of formal crossings for pedestrians.

The street experience

  • Residents and visitors expressed high satisfaction with the range of local shops, businesses, and other facilities along the high streets, as well as the opportunity to meet others.
  • The dominance of road traffic, poor appearance, lack of greenery, seating and public toilets were identified as negatively contributing to the high street experience.

Sustainability

  • The majority of local residents walked or used public transport to access their local high street.
  • The maintenance and improvement of the high streets was hampered by a lack of leadership and division of responsibilities between agencies.

From the above findings, several key recommendations are offered, some requiring higher levels of resources than others, as summarised below:

Some key recommendations

  • There is a need to reduce traffic dominance through widening footways, planting greenery, additional crossing points, and traffic calming measures.
  • It is important for high streets to be flexible and ensure street spaces can provide different functions, at different times of the day/week, and for different user groups.
  • There is the need to reduce street clutter and to improve appearance and quality of footways and frontages, to enhance walkability.
  • It is important to design high streets with better accessibility for wheelchair users and people with pushchairs to ensure greater inclusivity.
  • There is a need to improve public amenities, such as seating, lighting, public toilets, and higher quality public realm, to enhance the high street experience.

Overall, the report suggests there is a need to:

"1. Adopt a balanced 'link and place’ approach to mixed-use street planning and design.

2. Provide better co-ordination between agencies and street-user stakeholders.

3. Encourage enhanced information-gathering and sharing; and

4. Provide more resources and powers”.