Parks, gardens and trees hold the key to overturning the retail wreckage on our high streets, according to a Government report prompted by retail expert Mary Portas.
The Communities & Local Government (CLG) report formed part of its Portas programme of support for high streets, said landscape strategy and policy officer Julie Tucker. It is aimed at professionals charged with improving streets and town centres.
"The guide describes how urban spaces can be used imaginatively to revitalise high streets and town centres," she said. "This will help to increase high-street vitality, attract footfall and boost local economies."
The report, Re-imagining Urban Spaces to Help Revitalise our High Streets, says small design changes could make big differences and points out that attractive features such as planting and pocket parks in high streets and town centres can help.
"The vital role trees, parks, gardens, waterways and other green spaces can play in promoting sustainable places is often overlooked. These patchworks of green woven through our towns provide numerous benefits, creating places people want to live, visit and invest in."
Last year, the Government asked Mary Portas to review high streets and town centres. She highlighted ways of evolving to ensure shops offer a viable and exciting alternative to out-of-town and internet shopping.
The new guide includes case studies and links to recent guidance, such as Local Green Infrastructure: Helping Communities Make the Most of their Landscapes by the Landscape Institute and Trees in the Townscape produced by the Trees & Design Action Group.
"Town centres and high streets have buildings and roads, but the spaces in between are what hold them together as a place," says the latest report. "All too often, these spaces are used as no more than thoroughfares and we start to forget that they can be so much more."
Landscape Institute president Sue Illman said "This report demonstrates the huge impact well-designed places have on community life. A good public square offers safety, security, a meeting place and a focus for the local community.
"The landscape sector continues to lead in developing green spaces at the heart of towns and cities, all of which make a huge contribution to the communities with which they work."
Re-imagining the high street through creative thinking
Eric Pickles, Communities secretary
"The Government supported the vast majority of recommendations in the Portas review. The next step is over to you. There is no point simply chasing the traditional model of the high street. You need to re-imagine it and drive towards a new future where people come together for different reasons. Simply continuing as you are is not an option. Shared and public spaces are vital and knit places together but are often underused. Creative thinking is needed so that they become the focal point for the social interaction that epitomises the high-street experience."