10 things you might not know about high streets: 2. The high street is not just one thing

April 12, 2013

This is the second in a series of blogs devised by the Adaptable Suburbs project team to note some of the preliminary findings of the project.


Surbiton c. 1915, showing a business directory page; 1915 Ordnance Survey map with ‘third spaces’ (hotels, pubs, cafes) coloured orange; and buildings with retail functions coloured purple (inset)

2. The high street is not just one thing

Post offices are an interesting thing to consider when we start thinking about the nature of high streets. One of the exercises we have taken some considerable time to work on is to go through the business directories of the four outer London case studies over the four study periods (late 19th, early 20th, mid 20th and contemporary) to get to grips with their shifting character over time and space. Hours of fun have been had trying to work out whether, for example, a post office is a financial service, a depot, a shop or a community service – or indeed all of the above.


The problem of classification is not academic. If we’re to break out of discourse of retail as equating with high street (see also next week’s blog), then we need to move beyond fixed ideas of what these places are and what purposes they serve. As we’ve said before on this blog, Savills Research wrote in Valuing Sustainable Urbanism –  in a “sustainable world there is no such thing as a single class use”. They claim that even residential property gives rise to mixed use, since population arriving on a new site will always generate a “huge range of human activities”. The way in which those activities will be provided for: the location and access to shops, schools and offices as well as post-office and library is an essential component of the sustainability of a settlement. Urban design needs not only to create potential for local walking (and the obvious environmental benefits from this), but social sustainability: more potential for encounter between different sectors of society – both local and those coming from a longer distance as well as economic sustainability: town centre shops can benefit from passing trade alongside people making special trips to the area.



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