‘Covid: a catalyst for High Street renaissance?’ by member, Jonathan Joseph

The real estate business is a major part of our lives, both where we live and how we invest – actively or passively. It is also notoriously inefficient and wasteful – both of resources and time. It can take five years or more to take even quite a simple project through concept, the planning process and construction.

Re-purposing real estate (not refurbishment – that is very common) but genuinely repurposing it, is regarded as time-consuming and rather dull. It’s also tricky – often with a myriad of existing interests to acquire (both freehold and leasehold), ingrained local authority town plans and attitudes to change. It’s generally been easier for developers to move on to the next shiny thing – but this entails more waste, more time – and so the cycle goes.

My prediction is that over the next five years or so, a number of our local high streets (which we have ignored – even despised – for at least two generations), will once again start to become the centre of local living – perhaps even becoming cool.

In a post-Covid 19 and Extinction Rebellion world, we will need alternatives to having to struggle with unsafe public transport, increasingly restrictive car-parking, air pollution, crowds, etc.

I am involved (and believe in) a movement to ensure that High streets will be transformed into much more amenable places to visit and use – with more interesting shopping – particularly food shopping and leisure offerings. They will be easier to access by foot, by bike, or in due course by driverless car. We will find convenient, flexible work-space there (not just by monopolising tables in Starbucks); we will find like-minded people there, with whom we can enjoy high quality conversation, food and drink at all times of the day and evening. We will find cultural and entertainment experiences there – and we can even down-size into purpose-built flats, specially designed for people of our age and live there in a convenient and stimulating environment. High Streets should become much more flexible and sustainable than they are today – in all senses of the word.

This is a complicated and at times fraught task. It’s not for nothing that I call myself the Don Quixote of the development world. I spend much more time suspended upside from the sails of a windmill than is good for me. But I believe high streets can be re-purposed – indeed I am well into my sixth year of working through the first live project to do this.

We all want fun, stimulation, ease of living, safe living – good living. It’s coming soon – to a place near us!

Jonathan Joseph
May 2020