Thursday, 20 January 2011

Building Societies to Pawnbrokers. Doughnuts to Donuts.

Timely and perceptive article in today's Financial Times (registration required):
The changing face of Britain’s high streets
Today’s high street is very different to a snapshot of the average one in October 2008, a month after the Lehman collapse.
Building societies, recruitment agencies, estate agents and pubs have vanished from neighbourhood shopping streets, according to data compiled by the Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency.
However, not everybody is shutting up shop. High street bookmakers were the only category to see significant growth, with their numbers up 5 per cent over the two-year period.
Demand from pound shops, pawnbrokers and bakers is also in evidence, demonstrating the increasing social stratification of the high street as wealthier shoppers drive to out-of-town retail parks and malls.
And saucy FT comment here:
Lombard: Bookies inherit the high street
The meek will inherit the earth, but the bookies are inheriting the high street.
Building societies, temples of prudence staffed by priestesses in polycotton, are closing branches by the thousand. Betting shops are springing up instead, luring the populace with the cash-gulping idols that are fixed-odds gambling machines.
We've certainly noticed this happening in Aberdeen. Pawnbrokers, pay-day-advance moneylenders, pound shops and plush-looking bookies (bookasinos) all join the dots with vacancy, dilapidation and blight to plot a psychogeographical picture of our transvolving town.

The British doughnut, a lump of indifferent carbohydrate with jam in the middle, describes rich inner-city development surrounded by acres of gloom.
Easy credit money flows into city-centre apartment and commercial development in the 1990's and early 2000's. The near-centre residential and light-industrial zone which surrounds the centre is abandoned. That was then, but now...
The “doughnut effect" ... confusingly describes the opposite phenomenon to the “donut effect” that American planners talk of. The American donut, a sugary ring with an empty centre, is a fine metaphor for the rich suburbs around a collapsed inner city.
...the British  "Doughnut Effect" of the 1990's and 2000's turns out to be a chimera, a bubble blown by easy finance and collapses into the American "Donut Effect" after all. Confusing.

However, in Aberdeen we are optimistic that not all is lost. We have noticed some multiple grocery retailers (Tesco, Sainsbury, Co-op) beginning to re-occupy medium-sized and small town centre and local node sites. These car-park-less small scale need-responsive shops are designed not for customers to buy a month's worth of food, but rather just to pop in for something which is needed today. The large multiples are going back to the future and re-inventing the corner shop. Indeed, the Co-op's TV advertising campaign seeks to make capital of the fact that that, as a customer on foot - buying food fresh whenyou need it - you reject car culture and contribute to the pleasant livability of the town and your own well being and quality of life. But then, the Co-op are just a bunch of communists

As opposing forces both seek to hollow out and re-occupy the town simultaneously, we are thrilled by the dynamic of this unfolding urban narrative. We are particularly interested in the fact that Tesco, for one, seem to be playing on both sides.

We truly have no idea where to place our bets on how it will land.

No comments: