Reinventing the high street for Covid-19 recovery

As part of their 'Life after lockdown’ series, this 2020 article from Sustrans looks at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on local high streets. It outlines four recommendations about what high streets in the future could ideally look like, including: designing high streets for people; capitalising on the increased usage of local high streets; reimagining what high streets are for; and ensuring equitable and inclusive access.

Date added 12 October 2021
Last updated 12 October 2021

This article from Sustrans begins by acknowledging the historical challenges high streets have faced, even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, such as competition from out-of-town shopping centres and the rise in online shopping. The authors also identify an apparent tension between space given to pedestrians and motor vehicles/parking, on our high streets. However, they also recognise how we have seen some changes in this since the pandemic, owing to social distancing requirements.

The article next focuses on how Covid-19 'lockdowns’ have impacted on high streets. First, the authors observe how requirements around social distancing have led to challenges around high street store capacity and ensuring there is enough room for people to move around high streets, including along pavements. Second, the article notes the increased usage of local high streets since the pandemic, due to government advice around staying local, reduced capacity on public transport, and working from home. Third, the article suggests we have seen a related reduction in people using city centres, due to shifting work and commuting patterns, as well as lower levels of travel and tourism.

Finally, the article provides four recommendations about how high streets can transform in the future, as summarised below:

1. Reinvent high streets as places for people - rather than being seen as somewhere to move through to get to somewhere else, high streets should be reinvented as destinations in their own right – designed for people and not cars, with high quality public realm.

2. Take advantage of increased use of local high streets - there is opportunity to revisit the traditional role of high streets as hubs for the local community, and to celebrate their unique character to generate local pride. The 20-minute neighbourhood concept could also be further put into practice.

3. Reimagine our town and city centres - with less people using larger towns and cities during Covid-19, they could further diversify their offer, providing further opportunities for social connections people may miss working from home, and also catering for domestic tourism. Office space could be repurposed for things like housing.

4. Ensure equitable access – when reinventing high streets, it is important to consider issues around inclusivity and equal access. Public transport could be improved so that more people are able to easily and safely access and move around our high streets.