I was reading a document today which was written by LDA (an independent consultancy of urban designers, landscape architects and planners).
It was entitled “Space & Time” and talked about the growing feeling that we shouldn’t just go back to things as they were before Covid-19.
That we could make our environment better and still plan everything we need as a community sounds really attractive.
They suggest that we need to view the entire landscape from canopy to soil substrate [including the human race] as one living system with a new focus on people, nature, amenity and culture.
As they say, high streets were struggling long before the pandemic, and footfall down around 40% hit the centres of big cities hardest. While many smaller traders in towns kept their customer base, a big question mark remains over the future of both cities and towns.
With the Town Council’s plans to pedestrianise part of the Market Place we are seeing improvements which might otherwise have taken a decade to happen, not least new measures to encourage walking and cycling.
But this isn’t enough. Simply replacing hard surfacing for vehicles with hard surfacing for pedestrians and cyclists doesn’t really improve the living system.
If the part pedestrianisation goes ahead then we should also be able to “green-up” the space and add something other than plastic barriers.
A key question remains “What exactly is our town centre for?”
The designers began to imagine towns and cities restructured to work for people as citizens instead of consumers.
As they say, “People need a stage for conviviality”.
They suggest that shops could become Public Living Rooms, providing people with somewhere to escape to from the isolation of a small home.
A town centre has be to a destination otherwise it dies, but with high rents and taxes it is difficult to make convivial places viable but this is a bigger issue than Wantage.
The government has ambitions about wellbeing and healthy living so tax breaks for multifunctional venues may be a way forward.
The Beacon (if it ever opens again) was moving towards being a multifunctional space. The Mix is another good example.
The only other convivial spaces in Wantage are bars, coffee shops and restaurants.
At one stage, in the 1840’s, there may have been as many as 40 pubs in Wantage. If you include cafes and restaurants as well, we have nearly 30 now so it’s a good start.