Enhancing the streetscape
The streetscape refers to the physical aspects of public spaces in town centres. While it includes the design and appearance of buildings, there is much more town centre managers, local authorities and elected members can do. This includes the quality of the spaces between buildings and the furniture and equipment that occupies these spaces.
There are a number of different components which work together to create a streetscape. This will ideally be unique to the town, while also being clean and orderly, avoiding clutter and dereliction. These include landscaping, lighting, paving, planting, public art and effective signposting.
- 22. General design guide
- 23. Strategy for illuminating the public realm
- 24. Creating coherent fascias
- 25. Pedestrian signposting
- 26. Streetcare audits
- 27. Removing clutter
- 28. Installation of ‘On-the-Go' recycling zones
- 29. Window dressing for vacant property
- 30. Graffiti removal scheme
- 31. Litter wardens
- 32. Dedicated cigarette bins
- 33. First impressions exercise
- 34. Improvement of planting and floral displays
- 35. Using public art
- 36. Town trail
- 37. Alfresco dining
- 38. Case studies
22. General design guide
A design guide or streetscape manual for a town centre is desirable. It typically sets out:
- policies and practices for coordinating the design
- choice of materials
- management criteria
- quality of workmanship for a town centre's streets, pavements and public squares.
It also brings together the activities of all the different agencies who have a responsibility for delivering a service affecting the appearance of the streets.
It is a statement of agreed policies and practices which can infuse some order and strategy into the complex processes by which a streetscape both evolves and is maintained.
23. Strategy for illuminating the public realm
There are broadly three types of lighting in town centres:
- street lighting for safety and convenience
- decorative lighting for special occasions such as Christmas or Diwali
- public lighting which may be used to accentuate important buildings, spaces or monuments in a more permanent way.
The floodlighting of important or interesting buildings is quite common, and normally occurs according to the inclination of the individual owner. However, because architecturally or socially important buildings may not necessarily have owners who are willing or able to undertake a lighting scheme, it is important to develop a public lighting strategy. This can add much to the appeal of a town centre at night.
24. Creating coherent fascias
Shop fronts are an important part of the streetscape, providing colour and an overall sense of the quality and diversity of a town. In order to create a sense of cohesion, it is important to develop design guidelines to assist building owners and architects. Shop fronts should relate visually to the overall design of the building.
Without this, a high street can appear cluttered and advertising signs can obscure the architectural uniqueness of the building. The design of each shop front may vary, but the presence of consistent elements in every shop front will create an impression that the street is complete.
25. Pedestrian signposting
Traffic signs have to conform to national standards governing their colour, size and position, but pedestrian signs do not. Pedestrians also have more time to read street signs which means more scope to make them imaginative and interesting. Good quality street signs look attractive and convey their information easily, often with clear symbols and few words.
Increasingly, towns which have refurbished or upgraded their signposts have sought sponsorship from the private sector, enabling higher quality signs to be purchased in return for the incorporation of a small logo.
26. Streetcare audits
A streetcare audit identifies what type of improvements are required in the public realm to make it a more attractive and unified place. This could be the removal of unnecessary street signs, graffiti and flyposting, repainting of street furniture and cleansing of underpasses.
A streetcare audit can help town centre managers to prioritise which street improvements to undertake first as finite resources usually prohibits all of them being undertaken simultaneously.
27. Removing clutter
Clutter is a term to describe the effect of redundant street signs and visually discordant objects which collectively define the street scene. Clutter accumulates as pavements collect additional pieces of equipment and signs over time. Clutter has the effect of reducing the individuality of a town centre, making a street scene look confusing and shabby. Clutter cannot be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion, since to remove only one unnecessary object at a time will lack impact. Following a streetcare audit, redundant objects should be removed in a ‘clutter blitz'.
Clutter ought also to be minimised through the imaginative positioning of necessary items. For example, it may be possible to attach signs and street lights to buildings, and careful planning can minimise the number of separate street signs.
In circumstances where landowners may be responsible for clutter then local authorities have the power to ensure they are responsible for the clean up of an area under section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Guidance - on the Communities and Local Government website
28. Installation of ‘On-the-Go' recycling zones
Recycling is becoming a part of the daily routine for many people. The installation of an 'On-the-Go' recycling zone, designed for post-consumer waste, can provide an image for a town centre that is clean, attractive and environmentally friendly.
Although there are costs to installing a recycling zone, service costs associated with traditional landfill activities can be reduced in the long term.
29. Window dressing for vacant property
The image of boarded up shops and permanent shutters do not offer positive perceptions of high streets. However, the streetscape does not need to be dogged by boarded up shops, even if there are vacant properties.
With the property owner's consent, vacant properties can display high quality images which enliven the streetscape. With additional planning consent, shop windows could be used to display advertising that can bring in a small revenue stream for property owners.
The overall result is a high street which avoids the image of run down shops making it a more attractive prospect for those wanting to rent commercial property.
30. Graffiti removal scheme
Graffiti is an illegal and anti-social activity that, in general, can create negative impressions of an area contributing to peoples' perceptions of crime.
Belfast City Centre Management launched a novel scheme to help tackle the problem. The scheme offers all property tenants a free graffiti removal kit comprising graffiti wipes and protective gloves. The idea is that businesses are keen to avoid images associated with graffiti, and so with a little help, will willingly keep their own premises graffiti free. Therefore, the manpower required to keep an entire town centre cleansed of graffiti can be shared resulting in a low-cost initiative.
Improving the appearance of the area may consequently have a positive effect on visitor numbers and crime perception levels.
31. Litter wardens
If litter is a big problem in your town centre, it may be worth considering employing litter wardens. While this type of scheme is generally suited to larger places, smaller areas may find scope for incorporating aspects of the job into existing employee roles.
The litter warden patrols the streets, ensuring that both the public and businesses are disposing of waste responsibly. If anyone is caught breaking the law, fixed penalty notices can be issued - in addition, the presence of litter wardens represents a key deterrent for people who drop litter or illegally dump.
32. Dedicated cigarette bins
Although not a new development, cigarette bins can be extremely useful for maintaining a clean environment. Most bins are small in size and can be wall mounted, meaning they are discreet and do not act as an eyesore in the public realm.
They are fairly cheap to obtain (a standard wall-mountable cigarette bin costs in the region of £100), and they will provide years of service thanks to their fire-proof metal construction.
33. First impressions exercise
The first impressions exercise has been developed by the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM) as a means of gaining a clear understanding of a town centre's strengths and weaknesses, as seen by other town centre managers.
ATCM guide the scheme, matching participating towns and providing templates for evaluation. If you are unsure of how your town is perceived, this could be a good cost-effective way of finding out. It also presents the opportunity for working with other towns and making new contacts.
First Impressions Scheme - on the ATCM website
34. Improvement of planting and floral displays
Planting in town centres is central to sustainable development and regeneration, introducing seasonal colour to urban settings. Trees can be used to enclose public spaces, providing movement, colour and contrast, and bringing a different quality of light to a street. However, they take time to grow so their affect is not immediate, and young trees are both expensive and vulnerable to vandalism and disease.
Effective planting should take account of the local environment. It is essential that care be taken over the species of trees which are planted since some trees can damage property, block out light and obstruct views as they mature. If well trimmed, trees can also be a visual asset during the winter and therefore should be pruned so as to preserve their basic branch structure.
In the short term, flower baskets can provide splashes of colour throughout town centres during the summer months. It is very important that these are carefully maintained, as neglected baskets quickly start to look unpleasant.
35. Using public art
Public art encompasses a wide cross-section of physical forms, including:
- sculptures and murals
- shop signs and window displays
- paving patterns
- street furniture.
These features can add humour, colour, movement and talking points for a town centre. Art in public places can be figurative or literal, walked through as well as walked around, tactile as well as robust, live and interactive or still and passive, and permanent or temporary.
Successful public art should relate in some way to the setting in which it is placed, contributing to a sense of place by reinforcing existing themes and character. In this way it will be easily accepted, owned and enjoyed by a wide audience of town centre users.
36. Town trail
Signposts are particularly important for tourists who may be visiting a place for the first time. An effective option for tourists is the creation of a ‘town trail', which provides a route through the town calling at the major visitor attractions and heritage sites. This can be marked out either with signposts or with paving stones.
In addition to directional signs pointing the way to visitor attractions, heritage plaques which offer a brief explanation of the historical interest of a building or area can enhance both visitor enjoyment and the physical appearance of an area.
37. Alfresco dining
In areas with a concentration of bars, cafés, and restaurants with informal arrangements for outdoor dining, why not pool together the resources of local businesses to invest in unified; screening, branding and high-quality furniture.
By combining these resources with an effort to reduce street nuisances and anti-social behaviour, a pleasant and attractive destination for outdoor dining can created.
This could prove a key footfall generator during the summer and autumn months.
38. Case studies
Capital Streets project in Edinburgh
The Castle Street project was the first of a series of public realm improvements undertaken through a city centre management project. Capital Streets aimed to improve the quality of streets and spaces in order to enhance the city centre experience and generate economic activity.
Supported by funding from the City of Edinburgh Council and Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian, the work aimed to increase footfall, while improving the amenity of the space for the benefit of residents, businesses and visitors. A new road surface was laid using granite setts (similar to cobblestones) and Caithness flagstones, along with new street furniture and improved lighting. 'Power pods' were included in the infrastructure to enable activation of the street for events. This is an essential facility to ensure that enhanced spaces achieve their full potential and reduce opportunities for crime by providing a people-friendly environment.
Castle Street's location within Edinburgh's World Heritage site demanded extensive consultation with conservation bodies, residents and other agencies throughout the city. This was to ensure that everyone had an opportunity to participate in the design process. The outcome has exceeded expectations, both by creating an extremely attractive streetscape and generating very positive feedback from city centre stakeholders. Controlled vehicular access and the restoration of a quality streetscape has made walking and exploring the whole area a more pleasant and satisfying experience.
This project was devised by city centre management in association with Cardiff City Council, the Keep Wales Tidy campaign and a range of private sector partners. It is an innovative and direct way to engage with the growing population that chooses to live in the city centre.
It featured a unique process of recycling, designed specifically to meet the needs of a highly-populated area of the city centre. Key locations were chosen to house recycling facilities branded ‘Thanksbanks'. A unique circular drum design based around a multi-pole facility, the banks were introduced to high customer flow areas throughout the main shopping parades to encourage recycling by the residents and visitors alike and provide an effective means of collection.
The facility and its associated branding campaign has demonstrated increased public awareness of environmental issues generally, as well as promoting the benefits of recycling among city centre residents. As a result, more waste is now recycled than deposited in standard litter bins and recycling in the city centre has increased by 43 per cent.
Art at the centre of Reading
This project forms part of Reading Borough Council's ‘Art at the Centre' programme. It is an Arts Council England initiative which aims to involve artists in regenerating the city centre by exploring different ways to influence the spirit of the places in which people live, work and play.
Known as ‘Dwelling,' the artwork introduces a new element of lighting to stained glass panes installed in the upper windows of city centre buildings of historical and architectural interest. It draws attention to this element of the city's heritage by using specially made light boxes, each controlled by an astronomical clock to intensify the coloured glass from the street with a consistently bright glow.
The effect is to punctuate the area with irregular points of light and colour, providing a permanent piece of public art that links the city's recently restored museum and art gallery with a new mixed use development and adds a unique flavour that will attract visitors and investors alike.
The Kirkcaldy Art Trail
With the aim of inspiring and encouraging people to visit different areas of the town centre, Fife Council introduced the Kirkcaldy Art Trail at the beginning of 2010. 'Art in Shop Windows' was a creative initiative which transformed eight empty shop windows in Kirkcaldy town centre into works of art.
Beginning on the intersection between Whytes Causeway and the High Street, the trail went north onto Esplanade before coming full circle onto Hunter Street. An art trail leaflet was produced, providing a map and information on the displays which feature a diverse range of art works, from coloured doilies to a creative display using items washed up along the Kirkcaldy coastline.
The idea was spearheaded by Fife Council Development Services and a group of local professional artists, Blacksand Contemporary Arts. A temporary drop-in gallery and workshop was created in the middle of the High Street for the duration of the project. This provided a place where the public could meet the artists who have created the artwork in the windows. Art enthusiasts were able to benefit from a tour of the windows by the artists on scheduled days.
A series of art-based workshops for children and adults were also held over the course of the exhibition. This initiative was consequently very popular with town centre users of all ages.
19 October 2015