Reviving the High Street / Adfywio’r High Street
Tue 13th Feb
Noel Isherwood (architect / pensaer) & Paul Davies (Artistic Director / Cyfarwyddwr Artistig, Theatr Volcano Theatre)
(Visions of a new Swansea / Gweledigaethau Abertawe newydd, 2)
Reviving the High Street
On 13 February Paul Davies, Artistic Director of Volcano Theatre, and the architect Noel Isherwood gave a joint presentation on bringing new life to the High Street, a part of Swansea long associated with depression and dereliction.
Paul outlined the aims of the High Street initiative, which had the financial support of the Arts Council of Wales: to replace a pedestrian ‘corridor’ which people walked through hurriedly and anxiously to reach the railway station with an environment of culture, civility and safety that people were happy to visit and spend time in. He paid tribute to the government’s role in stimulating the programme, at a time when Swansea’s own economic culture was too fragile, lacking in confidence and the ability to take risks. The city had no shortage of artistic creativity, but to flourish creative people and their audiences needed suitable physical spaces and a safe, stimulating environment.
Noel Isherwood recalled the High Street in its heyday, in the early twentieth century, when it was a successful ‘shared surface’, with trams, wheeled vehicles and pedestrians intermingling, and a mix of buildings and functions (retail, industrial and residential). The decline of the street – it was labelled, disastrously, as ‘secondary retailing’ – is now being halted, through a process of bottom-up engagement and co-operation rather than top-down diktat. Among the ingredients of regeneration success, now and in the future, are: greening initiatives, pedestrianisation, attention to detail (new awnings, use of bright colours) and above all a collaborative approach to planning and development.
The two speakers challenged much conventional thinking about how to make a success of reviving urban centres, and a lively discussion followed.