Year of the Ox (St. Dilemma)Anna Alquati
Love it or hate it – all Londoners have a close relationship with the capital’s iconic Oxford Street. It is renowned and, in many cases, revered among shoppers, day-trippers, local office workers, tourists and global brands, and not to mention a huge contributor to the UK economy – or at least it was. It should come as no surprise that Oxford Street has been a focal point of the hardships brought forth by the pandemic.
While UK high streets – of which Oxford Street is undoubtedly the pinnacle – have been eagerly anticipating the return of shoppers, online behemoths have pounced on retailers with struggling store estates to increase their brand platforms and offering, leaving gaping holes in Oxford Street and other high street locations in their wake. There is currently a shadow cast over London’s otherwise vivacious West End, and key players are racking their brains over how to restore Oxford Street and the surrounding area to its former glory, and safely bring people back to places once Covid-19 subsides.
The government has started implementing a recovery plan, which will see some changes to the street’s architecture, making it more user-friendly for visitors and tourists at the end of lockdown. Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot has already been said about the Marble Arch Hill this week; a 25-metre high mound that Westminster Council believes will attract up to 200,000 visitors to the London borough. Work is due to start in a few weeks – but the consensus is that more needs to be done to bring shoppers back to Oxford Street after what has been a transitional year for real estate, not least retail & leisure.
Retailers, developers and town planners need to be clever, combining the right tenant mix and concepts to lure discerning shoppers – many of which will be working from home 2-3 days per week – back to the high street. See Melissa Twig’s article in the Telegraph this week for five alternative ideas that could make a positive difference on Oxford Street in the months ahead.
A return to ‘normal’ is what most people are hoping for. If London and Oxford Street represent an ecosystem made up of living communities, vibrant businesses, public transport and meeting spaces that can no longer survive on old assumptions, it’s clear that new approaches are needed to bring back the pulsating vibe that makes London and its star destinations unique in the eyes of the world, and to us – the shoppers, day-trippers, office workers, tourists, who eventually will make it back to the high street.