The death of a town centre.

The vast majority of my work over the past ten years has been focused specifically in the developing world. Various countries across Africa, in particular, were destinations for most of my travel and research. I’ve had an incredible time quenching a thirst for knowledge going all the way back to the early 1990’s when I first took an interest in international development.

Of course, if the target of your sole interest is overseas, and several thousand miles away at that, then it’s an obvious struggle to continually spend time in the field. Since the birth of Henry Banks last summer I’ve been spending less and less time away from home. This, fortunately for me, has coincided with a recent transition from day-to-day involvement in FrontlineSMS, and a move to a new project which I’ve been slowly working on for a couple of years – Means of Exchange – which has roots much closer to home.

This has a few advantages, the main one being that the fundamental problem I’m hoping to address – how we build tools to promote economic resilience among local communities – is (sadly) everywhere around me.

Even when I’m on holiday.

The small Finnish town close to where we’re staying is not alone in experiencing something similar to many other towns around the world – the death of the High Street. This has nothing to do with the current economic crisis and more to do with town planning, but the effects are devastating on local shops and the sense of community. Only on market days do the streets now come alive. The ‘action’ is now a mile down the road in not one, but two mega-shopping centres.

There’s something quite strange about walking through a town centre on a fine, early afternoon and being one of only a handful of people around. Locals do see what’s happening, but for many it’s too late. For the town centre to come alive again, and for people to begin supporting local shops again, and meeting up in the square again, people are going to have to mobilise and, more importantly, want it to happen. A community-lead revival – and this is what that needs – must be lead by the community.

It remains to be seen what will happen here, but many people back home in the UK do have the drive, passion, desire and commitment to rebuild their local communities, and my belief is that appropriate technologies can play a major part in promoting that revival.

I’m in if you are.

14 thoughts on “The death of a town centre.

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  2. Rene' Lauer says:

    This is a huge problem in the US as well. We continue to watch stores close and shopping centers wither away. Property management has become greedy and set terms that retailers cannot or will not commit to. The result is losing key stores that undermine the strength of the malls, once they pull out the few remaining stores cannot survive, customers stop coming. It’s sad. I fear we’ll all be sitting inside, ordering everything online and losing the social interactions we once enjoyed. Is also incredibly frustrating trying to shop with the limited retailers and limited merchandise stocked in stores when will it end?

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  6. kiwanja says:

    @Rene – Everything that you say resonates. Like many people I can see what’s happening, and hope (through the Means of Exchange project) to build tools to help people counteract, and even reverse, some of the slide. Feel free to follow @MeansofExchange on Twitter (or bookmark the website) if you’d like to keep up-to-date on what we’re doing.

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