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Aileen Appleyard
Head of Business Development College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Edinburgh Innovations

The Edinburgh Futures Institute project ‘Future of the High Street’ was created to support the high street as a successful, vibrant and liveable place as we emerge from Covid-19. It combined citizen engagement and co-design with rapid prototyping, urban data and research to better understand key high street challenges and opportunities.

The project produced six toolkit ideas to deliver meaningful impact. These ideas developed through conversations, surveys and digital co-design workshops with businesses, residents and organisations from two high street project locations: Gorgie-Dalry in Edinburgh and Dalkeith town centre in Midlothian.

Two ideas were selected, prototyped, piloted and evaluated on-site.

  1. In Gorgie-Dalry the pilot tested ‘sticky places’ to encourage people to spend more time in an attractive environment, to socialise, rest and to support local businesses. The pilot successfully showed that bench seating and window illustrations increased dwell time.
  2. In Dalkeith, the pilot tested a ‘tactical urbanism kit’ of street furniture to be used by local businesses, organisations and resident groups. During a one-day weekend event, local residents and businesses tested the kit and offered opinions. Using the kit increased both aesthetic appeal and dwell time.

The Future of the High Street project was designed to take a deliberately collaborative approach. The project's Advisory Board included representatives from organisations across Scotland and beyond. It built a professional community of interest around this topic, shared best practices and learnings, and enabled discussion and input on the live project process.

The Future of the High Street project also incorporated the use of relevant urban data throughout. A series of baseline datasets were collected about Gorgie-Dalry high street and Dalkeith town centre to provide context and understanding about the current status of these streets. Urban data was also used to evaluate the two pilots to provide valuable insights as to what worked, and an evidence base was created to support the ongoing project legacy for these and other high streets.

The project was funded by the Scottish Funding Council and delivered by the Edinburgh Futures Institute and Edinburgh Living Lab in collaboration with the Data-Driven Innovation programme and New Practice Architects. The project follows on from the Edinburgh Futures Institute's ‘Smart Places’ series of events and discussions, which highlighted the importance of this topic.

Part of the Futures Institute’s Design Lab, the Future of the High Street project worked within the objectives set by the Lab. This included a focus on high streets in the Edinburgh city region in the context of supporting COVID-19 recovery. The project team also benefited from being part of a collective of research teams within the Design Lab programme, who supported and offered each other expertise and advice throughout the project.

It was important to combine an inclusive participatory approach to working with local businesses and stakeholders, while also exploring where novel digital engagement tools might help us reach a diverse range of people, and navigate the challenges of placemaking safely during a pandemic. I hope through this project we can deliver real positive impact and inform longer-term learnings and action.

Jenny Elliott, Project Lead, Edinburgh Futures Institute, Chartered Landscape Architect and Urban Designer

New Practice is an architectural practice committed to place-based development and we’ve developed new skills and tools for creative engagement that in the past would have taken place primarily in workshops, classrooms and at local events. Translating these fun, collaborative and messy experiences into meaningful and effective remote engagement is a huge challenge, and through the Future of the High Street project we are excited to share our experience and curiosity with a wider team of practitioners, advisors, and researchers and learn more about how innovation and research can play a role in revitalising high streets.

Duncan Bain, New Practice (Digital Approach and Technology)

We’ve all spent more time than ever in our local area this year and it couldn’t be better timing to re-open the conversation about making great places to live. I’m pleased to be part of this work, following on from my involvement in ‘SmartPlaces’, and it’s timely to bring the learning from digital engagement and opportunities of new technology, and I’m delighted to be working alongside experts in placemaking, design and communities.

Niamh Webster, Policy Advisor (UK Government secondment from Scottish Government)

It is clear that the way people shop and socialise has changed and that the traditional model of the high street as the retail and social centre of the town is becoming less dominant, as it competes with online and out of town shopping for custom and footfall. Yet the high street is a key part of the identity of a town, and the unique story of each town can play a very important role in encouraging civic pride and community cohesion. The high street still has, and could continue to have, significant economic importance at the local and regional level.

Andrew Ralton, Economic Development Officer, Midlothian Council

This project develops and builds on Edinburgh Living Lab’s work on integrating data-driven innovation and human-centred design to improve places for people. Future of the High Street is also a demonstrator project for the Data and Design Lab, a new initiative that I am advising on in the University’s Covid Beacon programme.

Cat Magill, Senior Advisor, Edinburgh Living Lab and Data and Design Lab

Related Links

Edinburgh Living Lab - Future of the High Street project

The Future of the High Street – Full Report

Edinburgh Futures Institute – Smart Places

About the Design Lab and Edinburgh Futures Institute

The Design Lab is part of a new programme alongside the Urban and Regional Data Platform to support the recovery and long-term sustainability of the Edinburgh City and Regions. Initiated over the last year, using Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) Programme and SFC (Scottish Funding Council) funds awarded to the University of Edinburgh and distributed by DDI, the programme is led by the Bayes Centre and Edinburgh Futures Institute. The Design Lab encompasses four demonstrator projects that showcased the key themes and objectives of the Lab, including using data-driven innovation with design and co-creation, prioritising multidisciplinary approaches and cross hub participation, creating and demonstrating local/regional impact, and evidencing an economic focus on Scotland’s post-COVID-19 low-carbon economy aspirations.

The Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) is a major strategic initiative of the University of Edinburgh, focusing on tackling today’s increasingly complex issues and shaping a better tomorrow through education and research with a difference. EFI brings people and disciplines together to spark the unexpected and make new futures possible. The Edinburgh Futures Institute collaborates with industry, government and communities to build a challenge-led and data-rich portfolio of activity that has demonstrable ethical, social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts.

Image copyright Jenny Elliott

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