Why focus on Successful Suburban Town Centres?

December 1, 2006

In a study that focuses on understanding what works, it seems to be more relevant to focus on the cases that are successful.

From the outset, we can choose to have a random sample of Town Centres, and study them over time to see which ones are successful and which are not. The problem with this approach is that it relies heavily on data driven analysis. Because we are interested in policy recommendations and potentially spatial intervention in the built environment, such a method will not answer the questions that we are dealing with.

Another approach would be to select a group of successful and unsuccessful centres, and than to compare them. However, as we know, each one will have specific history and reason for it’s success or failure. Focusing on the failed cases will not help us in policy recommendations – there is a very good likelihood that they will be unique cases.

Therefore, the best approach is to focus on a group of successful town centres and to try and understand what make them tick. Once we’ve studied and understood these cases, we can look briefly at similar centres which have failed to survive and maybe comment on possible interventions that could be made or can be carried out in the future to revive them.

In summary, the main reason for the focus on successful centres is that within the limits of the project, and especially with the case study approach, it seems more likely that the successful cases will teach us about what are the combination of factors that make for success (morphological, economical etc). In a way, this is what books and studies like ‘Built to Last‘ have done where they looked at successful companies and try to explain what we can learn from them.

Update to the post (October 2007)

After few more months of working on the project, the concept has evolved further. Because we are considering the quality of adaptability as a core indicator for success, and because we are interested in centres that are active today, it is actually not possible to find a completely unsuccessful case that we can include in the study – by definition, if it failed and collapsed, than it was incapable of adapting!

Furthermore, our study is inductive by its nature, and we are still developing our understanding of what we mean by ‘success’ and what makes a centre worthy of the badge ‘successful’? We don’t have yet an answer, but by looking at the 26 cases that we are currently examining, we will develop a better understanding of what is success. Once we got that, we can identify successful and unsuccessful centres and indeed compare them.


One Response to “Why focus on Successful Suburban Town Centres?”

  1. ajfc Says:

    I think the best approach is to combine both, as you suggest – successful and unsuccesful – the argument made about the failed one that they are unique case could be made similarly about the successful one and so no explanatory arguments could be made. On an equity side one would want to know how to intervene in a failed one to achieve success without an comparative understanding it will be difficult to do so.

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