Repurposing for the cities revolution

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Repurposing for the cities revolution

Once upon a time a store was the only place where you could make a sale – and the only arena in which you could measure the commercial value and impact of a brand. Today, retail has changed. The process that began before the pandemic has inevitably been accelerated over the last year. This week, professional services network KPMG published a report that came with a strong warning: as the pandemic sparks radical shifts to online shopping and remote working, up to 40% of high street stores could be forced to close.

Throughout Covid-19, new social needs have arisen, and the winners will be those real estate and retail business which identify new opportunities in spite of – or because of – the global emergency. Public services in town centres as well as suburban areas could be delivered in a much more effective way by rethinking their location and facilitating a more tangible connection with the population.

Tom Whittington, retail and leisure research director at Savills, featured in Property Week on Wednesday, assured that we are at a stage where retail needs to be downsized and transformed into places of better use to the community; financially, economically and socially. Creating health hubs is an increasingly popular notion in this respect, and exciting prospect for injecting new life into town centres. Scott Corfe, research director and author of the Social Market Foundation report, says that bringing more parks, GP surgeries, gyms and wellbeing operators to the high street could prevent the dreaded rise of ‘ghost towns’. The report also explores the conversion of retail space into housing and care homes, enabling town centres to provide a mix of culture and services aimed predominantly at improving the physical and mental wellbeing of local communities.

There is also a growing demand for ”third spaces”–  works paces that are neither the company HQ nor the employee’s home. Third spaces will naturally be located much closer to workers’ homes, accelerating development opportunities in suburban areas of big cities. With the focus of developers shifting away from city entres, major disruption is on the horizon – but as we are seeing in Paris, this could mean positive change to the nature of urban development.

In January 2020, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, announced her intention to curb urban traffic flows in order to make the French capital more liveable by promoting proximity. Hidalgo plans to create neighbourhoods where people live AND work, where they can buy goods and use a variety of public services, all within a short distance. This idea, advocated by C40, a network of a hundred or so major cities around the world set up following the 2015 Paris Agreements, has become even more urgent since the pandemic hit. In Milan, Italy’s financial hub, discussions have begun regarding the creation of its own ‘15-minute city’.

It’s important to consider what a huge difference accessible recreation spaces, social services, health facilities and green areas could make for communities and customers right now and in the future. With the recent announcement of plans to transform Avenue des Champs-Élysées into an extraordinary garden, it is possible to imagine a wellbeing revolution having taken place in Paris by 2030. Repurposing vacant commercial spaces into health hubs and community meeting places, and keeping an eye on opportunities in areas outside the immediate city centre, may well be the catalyst for other countries around the world to follow suit.

Anna Alquati. Account Manager. Innesco.

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