Monday, June 06, 2005

Shopping city


A report by the New Economics Foundation (which sounds like a sinister Thatcherite thinktank, but is virtually the opposite) reveals that retail chains are turning UK towns into clones of each other.

The Foundation defines 'clone towns' as urban areas in which indepdendent businesses have been driven out of town centres by national retail chains. In other words, the usual Starbucks, McDonald's, Gap, Woolworth's, Boots, etc.

The policy director of the NEF, Andrew Simms, states:
Clone stores have a triple whammy on communities. They bleed the local economy of money, destroy the social glue provided by real local shops and steal the identity of our towns and cities. Then we are left with soulless clone towns. The argument that big retail is good because it provides consumers with choice is ironic, because in the end it leaves us with no choice at all.

Exeter comes up as king of the clones, with Dumfries, Stafford, Middlesbrough, Weston-super-Mare, Winchester and Cheltenham among other prime offenders. The most 'local' towns include Hebden Bridge and Peebles.

Interestingly, however, in London there were 13 high streets regarded as 'clones' (out of 27 surveyed). These included Wimbledon and Hammersmith. Shepherd's Bush and Bethnal Green were cited as areas with a 'local' identity.

While I'm entirely in agreement with the principle of the report's findings, I can't help feeling that I'd rather live somewhere like Exeter - which may not have an individual high street, but has a beautiful cathedral and green, not to mention some pubs which ooze character - than Shepherd's Bush, which is a total shithole (and only a couple of miles from my house). Retail 'individuality' may be one way of assessing an area's desirability, and we should strive to ensure our high streets maintain their own identity instead of becoming mini-malls, but there are others. The Gnu local, Chiswick High Street, just about manages to keep a local flavour despite the intrusion of the chains (mind you, you have to nip into the side streets to get the best quality local retailers - places like Devonshire Road and Turnham Green Terrace, although the latter is now threatened by the imminence of Crossrail).

Of course, there are other reasons to stay in London, rather than move to Devon...


Post a Comment

<< Home