Covid restrictions have highlighted the role the right mix of amenities play in the success of our urban centres, not just as economic focal points, but also as social, community, and cultural hubs. While online platforms will continue to develop, retail is and will remain central to what our urban centres have to offer.
Over recent decades, retail has played a crucial role in the regeneration of what has been left behind, providing jobs but also transforming localities. Retail investment makes urban districts more appealing to both existing residents and visitors along with bringing new investment in the form of more businesses, services, and in turn encourages the development of commercial space, public amenities, and more public transportation.
In June 2020 Cork City Council partially pedestrianised Princes Street in an initiative to revive local businesses and improve the shopping experience. Restaurants, bars, and cafés transitioned to outdoor dining and the improved the consumer experience lifted economic activity in the wider area. Such adaptability of Cork City Council and local businesses to reimagine their local economy highlights the crucial role the experience economy plays in our cities and town centres, and the benefits of a mix of traders.
Limerick City and County Council and Clare County Council are developing a retail strategy that aims to relaunch the region as a competitive and attractive retail centre. Measures include broadening the retail offering and improving the consumer experience of visiting the city centre. The approach recognises the central role of retail in revitalising and reimagining our urban centre.
The Clonakilty 400 Masterplan was designed to redesign urban areas putting people first. The objective was to ensure the vitality and vibrancy of the town centre is retained and enhanced, through traditional shop-front preservation and by re-establishing social activities on the street. The initial challenge of loss of car parking from the main street resulted in a positive opportunity, also shared by the retailers, to properly address universal design, street furniture for the elderly and tree landscapes. Previously empty buildings are now occupied, delivering new urban vibrancy and a real sense of community. Redevelopment of public realm in our town centres is a crucial tool to deliver liveable and vibrant places to attract people to work, live and visit.
The main challenge Westport faced coming up to the millennium was that like many towns in the West of Ireland, its commercial centre was in decline. The then Town Council made two significant decisions, to commission a Town Design Statement called ‘Westport 2000’ which provided design guidelines and to employ a Town Architect based full-time within the town’s community, to manage planning and the built environment utilising the Town Design Statement, as part of the town management team.
Today Westport is regarded as a model in successful town planning. One of the key contributions to the successful urban regeneration of Westport was the Town Council having its own Architect as part of the town management team, to drive and structure the town’s rejuvenation.