Green and blue spaces are key to revitalising town and city centres

Regeneration is once again back in the headlines. However, urban design is about much more than bricks and mortar.

As the government announces plans to invest a further £1.1bn in funding for more than 50 towns across the UK, regeneration is once again back in the headlines. However, it’s about much more than bricks and mortar. On our latest podcast, David Atkinson, national head of land and development, talked about creating spaces that people want to not only visit but return to and spend time in.

Towns and cities are the lifeblood of our society, driving growth, prosperity, and skills. They all have individual identities that make them unique, but at the same time, they need common ingredients that drive forward future growth.

In our experience of major regeneration projects such as Stockport Interchange, creating green and blue spaces that draw people in and encourage them to spend time within the town or city centre is essential to their success.

Whether landscaped or fronting onto water, green and blue spaces are crucial for healthy, sustainable, urban futures that bring life back into places that have lost the buzz that comes from a thriving community.

Placemaking for regeneration

Placemaking is all about delivering spaces that are both attractive and alive. The retail elements of town and city centres have felt the impact of the pandemic more than most, creating a rapidly changing landscape over the past few years. These changes have left a gap to fill, and green and blue spaces play a key role in doing this.

Green and blue spaces play a pivotal role in creating that sense of place, but also in making towns and cities feel unique and distinct from one another. Urban design over the years has tended to follow trends and this can lead to a sort of homogeneity, so creating spaces that give a town or city centre a sense of individuality is essential in the placemaking piece.

Creating something valuable that draws people in can often have a snowball effect, helping businesses to prosper by reigniting footfall and maximising the economic potential of these spaces.

Sheffield is a great example of this. What could easily be an uninviting route up a hill to the city centre is reimagined, from the water feature outside the station to the soft landscaping that draws you into the Heart of the City development. It is also fully pedestrianised to add to that sense of place that is brought about by people and active frontages.

Urban design for the future

This kind of long-term, strategic thinking is very much welcome, but it’s not without its challenges. Too often, areas can fall into the trap of making piecemeal changes that aren’t cohesive and don’t lead to the kind of paradigm shift in thinking that is needed to deliver the townscapes of the future.

I recently recorded a podcast with Andrew Davison, project director at Queensberry Real Estate, where we talked about this, and one of the points we discussed was the role of car and transport-centric design. For around a century, towns and cities have been designed with car users in mind, but the reality is that a car-free future – certainly in those urban areas with easy public transport access – is closer than most people think.

Going forward, these outdated approaches to urban design need to be made more people focused. Green transport is quite high on the list for many local authorities, so towns and cities need to embrace design decisions that will make it easier to get into their centres without a car. That is the direction of travel (if you’ll pardon the pun), so it’s best to get ahead of this now and embed it into regeneration projects.

Destination-based thinking

The reality is that towns and cities can be viewed as transactional spaces where you go in, shop and leave – but there needs to be more destination-based thinking when it comes to regeneration masterplanning. Developers and the public sector need to work together to create places that people want to spend time in, not just pass through or visit transactionally.

As we go forward, these spaces must have the aesthetics and the practical uses that draw people in and encourage them to stay and spend more time than they may have done previously.

This naturally brings with it commercial benefits, with increased dwell time in those centres leaning towards people spending money there - whether that be in shops or the likes of cafes or eateries – along with a strong sense of enjoyment of the place.

Having these kinds of spaces isn’t just beneficial for those coming into the city centre as visitors. Businesses can reap the rewards of their teams being able to get out of the office into an appealing, attractive space. Equally local food and beverage businesses could benefit from increased sales if there is an outdoor space nearby where people can sit and enjoy their purchase.

Beyond that, there is an undeniable link between having these kinds of spaces and health and wellbeing benefits, and all of this combines to support the ecosystem of towns and cities.

By taking this approach, our towns and cities can once again become places to be, rather than places to come and go from.

You can listen to our latest Building Knowledge podcast with David and Andrew Davison, project director at Queensbury Real Estate on Spotify here.