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FEATURE Saving London’s High Street


seem like dubious evidence of green shoots, but there are four fundamental reasons why London’s high streets have a bright future:


Car use has been declining among Londoners since the 1990s.

‘The picture for the whole of Britain has been quite stable since the mid-1990s, but London is a very interesting case,’ says David Metz, of UCL. ‘[The number of car journeys per person] reached its peak in the early 1990s, has been declining ever since and it's projected to go on declining as the population keeps growing.’

Fewer cars means more demand for local shops and services, easily accessible on foot. This change is partly due to higher density development of the capital, which according to Christine Whitehead, Professor of Housing Economics at the London School of Economics, ‘traditionally generates more, but shorter, trips using more public transport.’ This brings us on to fundamental reason number two…


Boris Johnson decries London’s ‘Hobbit Homes’ but London’s population boom has not been met by a house building bonanza. Our living space is shrinking. The average UK new build home is smaller than the average Dutch or even Japanese new home. And London’s existing housing stock is being subdivided into smaller and smaller dwellings. As our living space shrinks, so we want to spend more time outdoors.

You can see the effect in action in my South East London neighbourhood, Brockley, where I run a community website. Where once the residents rattled around in nice big houses, and barely bothered with the decaying high street next door, newer residents are squeezing into flats and spilling out of

Brockley Market, in Lewisham College car park (photo ©Toby Allen Photography)

their homes to spend time and money locally. Brockley High Street is making a slow but steady recovery. Businesses like Big Yellow (whose growth is driven by London and the South East) are responding to Londoners’ lack of room, but so are the cafes and bars that realise that their real business is renting living space, rather than selling coffee or beer.


The internet might be taking an ever- growing share of Londoners’ wallets, but in return it is freeing up time that was otherwise spent on drudgery. Since I discovered internet grocery shopping about three years ago, I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times

I have set foot in a physical supermarket. My weekly shop used to take up one or two precious hours of weekend time. Now, it’s done on a phone during TV ad breaks. There is evidence that the cumulative effect of these kinds of lifestyle changes is significant. In 2006, American academics Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst showed that Americans have much more leisure time than they did 40 years before. As The Economist explained: ‘Appliances, home delivery, the internet, 24-hour shopping, and more varied and affordable domestic services have increased flexibility and freed up people's time.’

Having been given the gift of time, Londoners want to escape their poky flats/houses and spend time and money

 Mary Portas, Queen of Shopping

PHOTO CREDIT Featureflash

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