Friday, 21 December 2018

Empty Shops and Arts Solutions

A corner of my art studio, December 2018.

In my last post I mentioned the changing face of town and city centres, and how their empty spaces could be utilised in the future. This article looks at a Parisian community project in a disused hospital. While the building awaits demolition, it's attracting 1,000 visitors a day while it is being used for a cafe, a market, artisan studio space, pop-up shops, a garden and to house homeless people. In London, a former fire engine workshop awaiting development is temporarily housing a migration museum.

Pop-up shops are great for the micro-businesses of artists and crafts-workers, (or "makers" as they're increasingly termed). Official definitions of micro-businesses vary in detail but most agree that they're owned by one person only, employ less than ten people, and have an annual turnover of less than £632,000. It might be fair, then, to classify a typical art or craft business, owned by one person who also is its only part-time employee, and having a turnover that's only a tiny fraction of that suggested, as a super-micro-business.

High street trade in Britain is also feeling the effects of people having less disposable wealth. Average workers are earning one third less than in 2008, as found by research carried out by the Trades Union Congress. One obvious result of this is that people spend less - and so shops close, and high streets look increasingly empty. Some of these empty shops could be transformed into homes to help solve the housing crisis.

Even though people increasingly shop online, we're a social species; we like to gather in groups, watch whatever's going on, to meet and mingle - hence the popularity of cafe culture, where indulging in people-watching is politely masked by the supping of a multitude of coffee options.

The arts and culture sector in Britain has grown by 23.6 percent since 2011, while contributing more than £100billion to the economy, 60% of this being from TV, music and film but 24.8% came from the arts.

If empty shop spaces can somehow utilise the continuing growth in the arts sector, then perhaps a way forward can be found for our ailing towns and cities. Shopping centres could be revitalised and re-purposed by using otherwise empty retail units for pop-up arts events, whether these be theatrical productions, crafts courses or exhibitions.

It seems pointless to wax lyrical about how wonderful old-fashioned high streets may have been. People largely abandoned them in favor of supermarkets long ago, partly as these were often cheaper but also to get the boring job of grocery shopping over with as quickly as possible. Plus there is the issue of battling to find a decent town centre parking space, whereas most supermarkets were built with plenty of parking spaces as part of their design. Now more people buy foodstuffs online and have it delivered, perhaps the days of massive supermarkets are also numbered.

It will be interesting to watch how things change. And change they will. It's happening already.


Unknown said...

Interesting points apparently the one growth area most significant on wirral high streets has been in cafes and coffee shops. Oxton road once full of empty shops is now almost all in use from town up to lisle with all independent shops cafe and others.

Adele Cosgrove-Bray said...

Hi Marie,

Thanks for visiting my blog.

When Richard and I first moved to West Kirby in 2000, most of the shops lower-down along Banks Road were empty but now there're cafes, restaurants and the art gallery, plus a few of the old shops like the traditional butcher's, which have managed to hang on despite competition from two supermarkets. Another butcher and the fish monger have closed, though.

Walk along Lord Street in Southport, and it's mostly cafes or charity shops; lots of empty units which have been empty for years already. It seems such a waste, when other people could be making use of them if only the rents and rates weren't so high.

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