A 6-month project to July 2021 using a data-and-design approach - combining citizen engagement and co-design with data and technology - to address key challenges for high streets and the public realm emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, the project will address physical place-based challenges such as social distancing and physical access that impact business activity as well as broader issues for high street businesses such as reduced footfall and changing consumer behaviour. Funded by the Scottish Funding Council, and delivered by the Edinburgh Futures Institute and Edinburgh Living Lab in collaboration with the Data-Driven Innovation programme and New Practice architects.
The project follows on from the Smart Places series of events and discussions, which highlighted the importance of this topic and challenge. It takes a deliberately collaborative approach - working with local businesses and stakeholders for two Edinburgh city region high streets - Gorgie/Dalry Road and Dalkeith town centre - to identify key current and ongoing real impacts on their businesses as a result of Covid-19 as well as looking longer-term to the future of the high street.
The project aims to deliver immediate impact by July 2021 via working closely with a number of these businesses to co-design a toolkit of 6 possible human-centred and data-driven solutions to these challenges specific to their situation/high street. The most promising 2 of these ideas will be piloted, documented and evaluated during June 2021 - at least one on Gorgie/Dalry Road, and one on Dalkeith's high street.
The project also hopes to deliver broader, longer-term impact beyond July. Findings from the evaluation and documentation of the project process and outputs will be openly shared with follower high streets, built environment practitioners and back with project participants - including local businesses and organisations. For example, via an evidence-based summary of the impact of the 2 pilots, and the production of a shareable 'how-to' toolkit of 6+ viable other ideas explored and developed with high street businesses through this co-design process. We hope that by documenting the co-design and rapid prototyping process in this way, the project can also support any further development of successful pilots by local businesses and organisations beyond the project end. In addition, we hope to share our learnings with other professionals and organisations, including the University of Edinburgh's Design Lab about the project process itself.
Follow our monthly project blogs (via the Edinburgh Living Lab Medium site) for updates about the project, the co-design and rapid prototyping approach being used, and the project findings/outputs in July 2021 . If you have specific queries or are a professional interested in how our findings might relate to your work or high street, please email the Project Lead based at EFI - Jenny Elliott.
"I am interested in the Future of the High Street project as it builds on previous work I’ve developed with Jenny Elliott and other colleagues in EFI, looking at how data can be used to support communities, and how community-sourced data can be used to inform policy and drive social change. This project will provide tangible insights into our changing relationships to place and place-making, and help local businesses survive the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic." Gemma Cassells, Public Sector Lead, Data Driven Innovation Programme
"As digital technologies play an increasing role in how people act in and upon the world, it’s vital that their voices influence the architecture and experience of emergent hybrid public spaces. I am pleased and intrigued to be part of this project as it has the potential to significantly shift the ways in which places are envisioned, approached and valued." Dr Jo Morrison, Director of Digital Innovation and Research at Calvium, 'Expert' at High Streets Task Force and co-Director of the Association of Collaborative Design
“High Streets and Town Centres are places of creativity and enterprise, where social and cultural interaction drives innovation and wealth-creation. They provide a sustainable core where all parts of society can come together and share resources and services. Their density means that shops, workplaces, leisure, culture and public services are near, they are still where public transport goes, and are accessible to the whole community. These long-established places are our true eco-towns, resources whose health is critical to a sustainable future. Our towns and high streets are critical to Scotland’s future social, environmental and economic success which is why this project can create key learning and resources for others to use.” Phil Prentice, Chief Officer, Scotland's Towns Partnership, National Programme Director of Scotland’s Improvement Districts and Director of UK High Streets Task Force
"I am interested in this project because [through my work] I have seen local town centres with a high turnover of businesses, [and a] lack of proper investment that has resulted in them looking tired and dated. Improvements identified through Public Life Street Assessments and community engagement have not materialised due to other aspects being prioritised. The current circumstances have shown that local town centres are needed so that people can shop local." Andy Edwards, Transport and Environment Manager
"It is clear that the way people shop and socialise has changed and that the traditional model of the high street as the retail and social centre of the town is becoming less dominant, as it competes with online and out of town shopping for custom and footfall. Yet the high street is a key part of the identity of a town, and the unique story of each town can play a very important role in encouraging civic pride and community cohesion. [...] The High Street still has, and could continue to have, significant economic importance at the local and regional level." Andrew Ralton - Economic Development Officer, Midlothian Council
"Gorgie/Dalry town centre – one of nine town centres within the city – has enormous potential to help drive future sustainable economic growth in Edinburgh." Kyle Drummond, City of Edinburgh
"People’s relationships with the places in which they live and travel are bound up with the social and cultural meanings embedded in the built and natural environment. The pandemic has precipitated changes in the ways in which we engage with our surroundings, in some cases accelerating existing changes. With signs of a growing appreciation and desire for localism, it’s important places adapt to ensure they offer viable, valued spaces rich in social meaning which allow local people to feel a sense of belonging. This necessitates a holistic approach which recognises and draws on the rich tapestry of ways that different people and groups understand the (specific) high street. As an Edinburgh (and Gorgie) resident, this project offers an opportunity to help shape how local high streets are configured." Stephen McConnachie, Connected Places Catapult
"I’m pleased to be part of this work, following on from my involvement in ‘SmartPlaces’, and now looking at the future of local spaces and places. A lot of my work is internationally focussed, but really, it all starts at home. We’ve all spent more time than ever in our local area this year and immediate surroundings. It couldn’t be better timing to re-open the conversation about making great places to live. It’s timely to bring the learning from digital engagement and opportunities of new technology, and I’m delighted to be working alongside experts in placemaking, design and communities." Niamh Webster, Policy Advisor (UK Government secondment from Scottish Government)
"Participation in the advisory board is of particular interest as I am currently spearheading the “Shop Here This Year” (shop local) campaign across Edinburgh’s 11 town centres (including Gorgie/ Dalry). This will promote resilience, improve access to business support services and encourage collaboration between Edinburgh’s local business communities during and through the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic." Lindsey Sibbald, Business Growth and Talent Development Lead, Business Gateway Growth Adviser
"This project develops and builds on Edinburgh Living Lab’s work on integrating data-driven innovation and human-centred design to improve places for people. Future of the High Street is also a demonstrator project for the Data and Design Lab, a new initiative that I am advising on in the University’s Covid Beacon programme." Cat Magill, Senior Advisor, Edinburgh Living Lab and Data and Design Lab
"It can only be hoped by looking at creating a resilient high street during the current situation we can create resilient places in the face of environmental and associated changes. The high street forms an important part of our towns and cities and is crucial in the 20 minute neighbourhood. We should not be talking about the preservation of our high streets but the flourishing of them." Gerard O'Brien - Senior Design Officer, Architecture & Design Scotland
"I am delighted to participate in the Future of the High Street project, both because of the direct benefit to Dalkeith and because of the potential for a much wider contribution to the national conversation on this subject." Douglas Strachan - Founder and Chairperson, One Dalkeith Development Trust
The aim of these events is to open up new conversations and connections between university researchers, industry practitioners and local people, to share knowledge and create a network of people working to improve local places using either community engagement and/or data/tech approaches. We also hope they will start to identify what some key built environment challenges of mutual interest might be for people across Edinburgh. This will feed into EFI’s work longer term, with discussions, connections and thinking all acting as a pre-cursor to a series of in-person physical events and Smart Places exhibition and conference which we hope can take place later in the year.
In the shorter term, the Smart Places work has directly led to a new, Scottish Funding Council funded project called 'The Future of the High Street' which was developed based on the challenges identified via these discussions and events. This is being delivered over a 6 month period from January - July 2021. You can find out more here.
As we consider the way forward into a changed and changing world, EFI seeks to put research, education and engagement in the service of the wider community and to support recovery and regeneration. The Smart Places initiative will contribute to conversations and activities in core sectors linked to the Data-Driven Innovation and City Region Deal contribution including creative industries; tourism and festivals; financial services/fintech; public services/data civics; future infrastructure; and ethics of data and AI.
Edinburgh Futures Institute
Edinburgh Living Lab
Data Driven Innovation
Scottish Funding Council