Supporting Vitality, Life and Mix
Over the recent past, British society has changed subtly but dramatically, and the economic and social future of towns and cities are intrinsically bound with the ability to provide a quality of life, on a measurement that very different from even a decade ago. The dial has moved to a greater interest in ‘public life’ – being out in our public realm – from dining to working in cafes, to families using public space as an extension of their living spaces.
People are attracted to places that they feel are pleasant and easier to be in, to move around. As such, attractive places, social spaces and activities, are an increasingly important element in thriving places; invariably, places that have strong, or emerging, contemporary economies usually have a greater street life. Responding to this is important for Shrewsbury, as it strives to bolster its economy by attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, since Shrewsbury’s future talent will look for ‘signifiers’ – indicators that there is something that speaks to their values and lifestyles.
Challenges and opportunities
It is for this reason that Shrewsbury’s economic future is so inter-linked with how the town evolves over the coming years to create the vitality, mix and wider offer for a multi-generational population and work force. Key to this is exploring and, if necessary, addressing the drift of commercial businesses to business parks and planning a revitalised central commercial hub close to the railway station, riverside and university.
Changing the tone of the town to create interest and experience – through public space and public art interventions, wider services and amenities – for all age ranges, is vital in getting an economic and demographic mix, helping Shrewsbury to address its ageing population.
Increasingly public authorities, urban practitioners and cultural planners are responding to the growth in ‘experiential’ leisure – from public art and events, through to things like pop-up dining to museum ‘lates’. The town’s spaces should be seen as a canvas for public life, providing an intangible, but invitation to be in and enjoy; from the way space is designed, and enlivened, with places to sit to enjoy the town and everything it offers. This should naturally extend to its major public spaces – such as the Quarry and the river, with the opportunity to integrate the riverside into the town’s public realm network.
The town is lively during the day, with a range of cafés and eating establishments, but it tails off quickly after 5pm as shops close. It should build an evening economy, responding to the opportunity of the students now living in the town centre, but ensure it develops broad leisure and cultural offer, with a multi-generational appeal.
Improved lighting could greatly enhance the evening ambience and night time appeal, with public and architectural lighting showcasing Shrewbury’s superb buildings, and thoughtful lighting schemes opening up safe and attractive public space networks at night. This network could extend to its riverbanks, using new lighting techniques that switch on and off as people walk by. This has the benefit of making the river paths safe, yet not interfering with the ecology and natural habitats.
The desire to appeal to a more youthful population should not be at the expense of families and older people. So there should be an emphasis on an ‘all-age’ town. Multi-functional, multi-generational places and facilities should appeal to every age and provide a sense of fun and opportunities for shared activity. Indeed, urban playfulness is a new pastime – people now use public space to play games such as board games, table tennis, or street pianos. Mobile devices have made ‘urban gaming’ a popular event with tech-savvy and non-tech alike, while apps can be developed to help people understand their environment, or engage with its historic fabric.
The town’s originality and creative spirit is already palpable in its enviable network of independent retailers, and future retail strategies should support this, protecting against a ‘clone town’. Time should be spent exploring the potential for opening times to be amended to reflect how the town is used by ‘all-ages’.
This independent offer, and spirit, is an important ingredient to bringing the town to life in its public realm, too, breathing life into the existing and new public space. Sometimes, the best and most authentic changes are spontaneous and ‘bottom up’, and all that is needed is a way of signalling permission to the wider community – to welcome and support activity – as well as commissioning interventions.
Yet, whatever the town’s offer, its night life and appeal is undermined by its limited transport options; its poor public transport and restricted operating hours of the park and ride, mean that people don’t naturally linger after the working day or are deterred from travelling in.
Enlivening the town’s network of public and green spaces to form the backdrop for improved public life, with seats and places to enjoy public art, letting its magnificent heritage buildings shine;
Linking the town’s arts and culture plans to public space and movement plans to ensure that there is the canvas and network for convivial and vibrant spaces;
Creating the conditions for evolution, emergence and change in the town – in its buildings, spaces and activities; encouraging experimentation, especially in public space and temporary uses for vacant and redundant space;
Building on Shrewsbury’s position as the ‘original one off’ will set the tone for its refreshed ‘indie streets’ network, underpinned by its independent retail and creative business;
Shape the town’s night-time economy to ensure it has something for all age ranges;
Shape places that appeal to both the younger and older generations, and encourage ‘urban play’, helping people understand their environment or historic fabric;
A public art and cultural life that is contemporary and high quality, as well authentic and distinctive;
Use the river as a major spine in the public realm network, exploring ways of making more use of the riverside – such as picnic places and cafes, a floating pool;
Boosting tourism in Shrewsbury and through a refreshed spirit and offer.
To achieve this, we will
Ensure all plans are linked and support vitality and life – from its spatial masterplans and transport planning, public space through to arts and culture to create a cultural climate, and a leisure environment, that appeals to all ages.
Search out spaces for reinvention.
The notion of “meanwhile use” – temporary uses and facilities – is now well understood as an opportunity for experimentation and encouraging civic use of neglected spaces or stalled development sites. The town’s master planning exercise should be able to identify such sites, and landlords encouraged to offer up empty shops and offices for temporary uses.
Work with and build on existing cultural gems and the wider cultural sector to extend provision, exploring more opportunities for programming and events.
Develop multi-functional, multi-generational places and a sense of play ensuring refreshed plans have the needs of all ages at their heart, including seats for rest, places for play.
Explore technology as a way of helping people engage with their environment and its historic fabric.
Invest in public realm improvements and pedestrian priority areas, creating a network of spaces to respond to these aspirations.