High Streets & Town Centres Adaptive Strategies

Innovating responses to contemporary high street challenges

This study seeks to understand the dynamics behind current issues facing high streets and to propose ambitious solutions, based on a range of case studies from across London. Each case study makes recommendations in response to a question with national relevance including: ‘What can we do with empty large-format retail units?’; ‘How can we adapt to the ‘experience economy’?’; and ‘How can we embed community participation in high streets?’

High Streets & Town Centres - Adaptive Strategies presents the case for investment in high streets through a review of past and current literature and data. Bringing together this existing intelligence, a set of trends, issues and opportunities were identified. These include economic changes and restructuring of the high street, societal changes and shift towards an 'experience economy' as well as institutional, environmental and technological changes.

Ten research questions were formed from these trends, and selections from a comprehensive list of precedents provide an inspiring and informative resource, illustrating a range of possibilities for high streets.

“High streets are places where public and private investments meet citizens. Who are the streets for? How are the benefits distributed? Is the wealth created reinvested back into the streets or is it siphoned off? Setting missions at high-street level allows us to get to the heart of these questions, and to understand how public spaces and the public good need to be constantly contested and argued for.”
Professor Mariana Mazzucato, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

Each case study highlights common issues and opportunities for high streets to meet significant challenges at a strategic level. The case studies represent ambitious scenarios that celebrate, build on and reflect local authorities’ existing plans and initiatives for their high streets, and consider how further value can be added.

We Made That and Gort Scott liaised with boroughs to produce design research that is relevant and useful to the contemporary challenges faced on high streets. Hatch Regeneris and Urban Shape provided relevant input relating to evaluation, project implementation, and planning policy.

Case study: Dalston

Data insights: how an inclusive, technologically-enabled high street can benefit local businesses and market traders

Case study: West End

Retail retrofit: creatively reuse vacant or underused retail units and department stores to support strategic values

“This guidance will help to support the implementation of ambitious, innovative and fresh strategies so our high streets and town centres not only adapt and survive but thrive.”
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Areas of cultural consumption intersecting with London's high street, 2019

Local-level indices of multiple deprivation intersecting with London’s high streets, 2019

A section of the study is dedicated to thinking about the role that evidence, insight and reflection can have in supporting the development of new approaches to changing High Streets and Town Centres. This section seeks to encourage new adaptive behaviours which can help ensure that partners individually are able to access better information to inform future high streets.

The study draws together conclusions and recommendations relating to Public Value, participatory structures, organisational capacity building, intensification and mix of uses and asset management.

Whilst the research was produced prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the relevance of many of its recommendations has been only been increased by the impacts of national lockdowns and their economic aftermath.

Project Details

Greater London Authority

Completed 2019


Gort Scott, We Made That, Hatch Regeneris, Urban Shape


High Streets and Town Centres Adaptive Strategies