Reviving our town and district centres

Here we post information and ideas from around the world designed to revitalise our town and district centres in the face of the drawing power of online shopping, out-of-town retail sheds and other


by Professor Marcus Jefferies of the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

I am involved in a research project entitled ‘The Future of the City Centre’ which received some funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under their international research networks scheme. This international research network comprises universities from the UK, South Africa, Japan and Australia, with each University supported by several partners (industry, government, not for profit organisations etc). Each host Uni/city organises a workshop (mini symposium) over 24 months. Each workshop will include selected speakers who will be asked to prepare position presentations to establish the context for debates (round table discussion) on the Future of the City Centre. Speakers will represent academia, local government, non-government organisations, businesses and communities. The outcome will be possible scenarios that may be formed into multi-disciplinary policies. The Newcastle (UK) was held (September 2018) and the Newcastle (NSW) was held in March 2019. They were followed by workshops in Pretoria, South Africa (Sept 2019) and Joao Pessoa, Brazil (March 2020).

As the 20th Century unfolded, cities in the developed world evolved from an industrial base into commercial activity. However, the world recession from 2009, exposed the underlying trend that electronic systems were changing demand for city space once more. The need for city centre offices fell, as increasingly flexible working patterns fuelled by the wireless revolution, generated places of work in cyberspace. Much as the early 20th Century pioneers had done, urbanists in the 21st Century were starting to look around them and ask – What is a City for? The theoretical perspectives will involve investigating the past, present and future of the city centre. The emphasis of the project will be visions for the post-industrial, post-commercial and post-retail city. This theme and the related sub-topics will enable the development of future city models and will help to contextualise urban change. Aspects of the study will include: The nature of urban design, urban form and the re-use of the built heritage; loss of a distinctive built environment and sense of place. This loss is lamented by many citizens, and strategies are needed for the re-introduction of distinctive places. Provision for cultural events and different forms of entertainment may offer vitality, together with visitors and responsible tourism. City authorities are starting to realise that structural changes are happening in city centres and are responding by establishing core groups of officers to consider these issues. However, much of this work is framed by responses to the existing situation and surveys with communities. This project will provide a distinct focus on innovation for the future of the city centre. It will also enable academic research to inform new policies, from a multi-disciplinary perspective incorporating views from different cities.










Here is a photograph taken by the University partners making site visits to various revitalisation projects in Newcastle. They are pictured at the RSL vertical residential aged-care village, i.e. high-rise CBD accommodation as opposed to regular aged-care models which are single story and suburban or even rural. Dr Marcus Jefferies (University of Newcastle AUS) on the left and Professor Bob Giddings (Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) is third from the right.


POLICY EXAMPLE – United Kingdom


BID Example – Newcastle upon Tyne City Centre:   NE 1 Limited

Newcastle upon Tyne’s successful Business Improvement District company has just (late May 2018) launched its “manifesto” for the local ballot to city centre businesses for renewal of its mandate: see NE1 Bid Renewal 1



As the concept of BIDs began in Toronto, Canada, it’s no surprise that Newcastle, Ontario has a well-established and supported Business Improvement
Association. It’s one of four BIAs in the municipality of Clarington, aiming to make Newcastle a great place to start your business and to build it.

“Newcastle Village has so much to offer tourists and merchants alike. With its small town village charm, shops and services in the business area are very dynamic and offer everything you need in home décor, culture, food, and recreation. Newcastle Village BIA is one of four other Business Improvement Associations in the Municipality of Clarington. With a large partnership in the tight knit community, we work together with all members to maintain a downtown that is worth visiting and having a business in”



TOWN CENTRE PARTNERSHIPS – example Newcastle-under-Lyme, United Kingdom

Now also a Business Improvement District after a ballot.


NEW CASTLE MAIN STREET: The Heart of Newcastle

The goal of “New Castle Main Street: The Heart of New Castle” is to promote downtown New Castle, Indiana and the activities that go on there. Ongoing projects include placement of flowers, banners, and bike racks, and other improvements. Its board is divided into specialist committees, including design, promotions, and economic development. It’s an area from 11th to 15th streets that spans the east-west boundary.


The mission of the project is to establish a New Castle Main Street dedicated to renewing, growing, and promoting downtown New Castle by stimulating economic growth and fostering community pride while preserving the city’s unique history. New Castle’s Main street approach mirrors the national movement’s Main Street push to strengthen commercial districts through economic development, historic preservation, city management, and community planning programs.



For more information contact

We like this summary of what the The Indiana Main Street Four Point Approach involves:

  1. Design: Enhancing the physical appearance of the commercial district by rehabilitating historic buildings, encouraging supportive new construction, developing sensitive design management systems and long-term planning.
  2. Organisation: Building consensus and cooperation among the many groups and individuals involved in the revitalisation process. To ensure a self-reliant, broad-based, long-lasting downtown revitalisation program, the entire community must rally around the idea.
  3. Promotion: Marketing the commercial district’s assets to customers, potential investors, businesses, local citizens, and visitors. To keep investors, visitors, and businesses coming downtown, Main Street must reshape the community perspective of downtown as a hub of activity. Successful downtown image campaigns, as well as promotional activities that build upon the community’s unique heritage and culture send a consistent, compelling message promoting the downtown area.
  4. Economic Restructuring: Strengthening the district’s existing economic base while finding ways to expand it to meet new opportunities and challenges from outlying development. Main Street’s ultimate goal is to create downtowns that are economically viable. Researching the regional market and consumer trends give Main Street organisations a realistic picture of what market mix will work for their downtown. Based on their research, Main Street organizations can begin stabilising existing businesses and recruiting new businesses to fill the gaps.


(United Kingdom)


Newcastle CBC Assessment FINAL 2016_0310

Questions currently (March 2016) being addressed by the City of Newcastle in assessing the future of the Downtown area:

A. Is the CBC Plan consistent with the current vision of the Downtown held by the community?
B. What are the major factors that have prevented or slowed the implementation of the CBC Plan in
the Downtown?
C. How may the City play a more proactive role in implementing the CBC Plan in the Downtown? What
can be done by the City to implement the current vision of the Downtown?
D. How can the community’s goals to create a more walkable, mixed-use, and vibrant Downtown best
be integrated with adjacent neighborhoods?

Very interesting analysis and options in this document.








The Newcastle Central Business District (CBD) is the economic engine for the town as it hosts residential, retail, commercial, educational, entertainment, government, financial institutions and medical centres. There was concern that when the Newcastle Regional Shopping Mall took off the effects of decentralisation of business could extensively harm the CBD. However, the markets and economic energy displayed by the CBD so far demonstrates its resilience and more recently there have been new developments such as a SuperSpar precinct arriving in the CBD. However, the CBD continues to endure various economic negative externalities whose unintended consequences manifest in a range of problems, harm both business owners and the general public and have the effect of pushing traders out to the malls and convenient neighbourhood complexes.

So Newcastle Municipality is now complementing developments driven by the private sector and government by rolling out a clean-up and improvement campaign to emphasise that the Newcastle CBD is still a key investment destination and space for social interactions.

A range of stakeholders will be involved in the campaign and mobilised for a clear programme of action. The campaign will promote a good culture of compliance and disassociate elements harming the viability of the CBD.

The key elements of the improvement campaign are:

Improving public places and spaces

Dealing with poorly-maintained infrastructure

Promoting better safety and security through design and enforcement (especially in more secluded and poorly-lit CBD areas

Higher standards of basic maintenance (e.g. refuse collection, overgrown grassed areas, filling in potholes) and creating a greener and more sustainable environment

Tackling buildings that have become rundown

The municipality will consider whether to create a City/ Business Improvement District (BID), a systematic approach designed to reverse urban decay and re-instill new life and energy into business districts via a new business-led vehicle, in partnership with the municipality.

Public resources are more limited these days so the municipality will reengineer and reorganise its resources to mitigate this. The campaign will not only build new collaborations but also consciousness and civic pride amongst the public that Newcastle is on the new road map towards a city. We have already demonstrated this publicly by erecting the state of the art civic centre, which not only serves the public but reaffirms our commitment green buildings in 21 Century.

Our vision is that by working together and better use of resources a revitalised CBD can be created and maintained – where people can walk from their flats through safe pedestrian boulevards to places of work, socially network in the public assembly places and enjoy the abundance of shopping and also entertainment and outdoor life during the evening hours.




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