London’s high streets: Nostalgic notion or community hotspots?

The uncertain future of London’s high streets is now, more than ever, a topic of heated discussion as shops shut on a daily basis all over the city.

Opinions are split between two extremes: The High Street is either seen as an absolute necessity to be preserved, or regarded as an old fashioned notion to be discarded.

Tooting MP Sadiq Khan is an avid defender of the High Street and launched the ‘Save Our High Street’ campaign.

To Mr Khan, the High Street represents the heart of every community.

“Two hundred and fifty years on, Britain is still a nation of shopkeepers, and long may that continue,” he said.

At Intelligent Squared’s lively debate ‘The High Street is Dead, Long Live the High Street’ the impact of online shopping on the High Street was discussed.

The longing for the traditional high street was deemed ‘nostalgic’ throughout the evening, as most panel members predicted big changes in the near future.

“The High Street as we know it is dead, but it will be reborn,” said Vice President of eBay Marketplaces Europe, Paul Todd, he predicted a bright future for a technologically enhanced High Street shopping experience.

However, the future is currently looking less than lively for Britain’s high streets, with approximately 16 shops closing a day in the first half of 2014.

Most notable were this year’s folding of Phones4U and the lingerie shop chain La Senza.

Ben Hammersley, a tech-affairs journalist, declared: “The high street is rubbish.”

Londoners are both cash and time poor, Mr Hammersley proposed that the concept of a high street is ‘outdated’ and is solely kept alive by our ‘anthropological need to hang out’.

In fact, Mr Hammersley regards an outfit purchased with friends as nothing more than a souvenir of a pleasant social experience.

Hardest hit by the high street downturn are fashion retailers, video and book shops, while betting shops, pawnbrokers and charity shops are on the rise in this year’s first half.

Businessman and political adviser Bill Grimsey envisioned the modern high street as a vibrant community hub providing 21st century shoppers with amenities such as high speed 4G networks.

Mr Hammersley’s vision for a new and improved High Street is quite simple.

“The future of the High Street is a gathering place of citizens to be the best humans they can be,” he said.

Picture courtesy of Yuriy Akopov, with thanks

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