High street adaptations: ethnicity, independent retail practices, and Localism in London’s urban margins
Two key forces are likely to impact on the retail profile of London’s high streets. First is the increasing expansion of London’s retail sector across both affiliated and independent sectors, paralleled with economic volatility associated in part with the global crisis in 2008. The second is the political shift, at both national and city scales, towards the recognition of small independent shops and local high streets, as signalled in The Mayor’s Draft Replacement London Plan , 2010. This brings us to a third consideration: the growth of ethnic retail, evidenced particularly in London where national levels of immigration and ethnic diversity are at their highest. The 2010 High Street London report commissioned by the Mayor’s Office emphasises ‘the local’ role of London’s high streets for a ‘local’ populous, reflecting a larger national policy emphasis on Localism as outlined in The Localism Bill in 2010. This paper explores what forms of planning are best suited to recognise a rapidly evolving retail landscape together with the crucial differentiations inherent in the local landscape. The focus is explicitly contextual: it is London centric in its scope, and relies on detailed survey and ethnographic data of a south London high street located within an area with high Indices of Deprivation. The context sits in contrast to the notions of the village high street and the upmarket high street, which encapsulate cultural notations of vitality and viability which frame much of the literature and policy around the value of high streets. By analysing the adaptive practices of the ethnically diverse, independent retailers on the Walworth Road, socioeconomic measures of high street values are explored. Further, the paper conceptualises adaptation as the strategic adjustments made by independent proprietors in recognition of large-scale economic forces, national regulatory frameworks, and local cultural nuances. The paper reframes ‘the local’ as ‘the particular’ and emphasises the need for disaggregated, fine-grained research on retail practices in high streets which reflect crucial contextual differentiations. Finally it explores what a planning framework and stewardship mechanism for high streets in London’s urban margins might comprise.
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