The Portas Review has been back in the spotlight recently as Mary faced MPs on the communities and local government select committee with an updated plan to save the British high street. With financial backing from the Department for Communities and Local Government, Portas helped to establish 27 “Portas Pilots” but now faces criticism that it was nothing more than a PR stunt for her television career and that little, if anything, has actually improved. High streets now fall on an extreme scale, where at one end we have empty towns with struggling shops and a total lack of investment and at the other end we have affluent market towns and pockets of London thriving on a culture of indies and coffee shops.
Covent Garden is in stark contrast to the Portas Pilot towns, yet the press release which landed in my inbox, and which I will now go on and tell you about, got me thinking about this extreme (North/South?) divide we have. So, 21st September is International Car Free Day and if you scurry along to Seven Dials on this day you will find a whole host of lovely things going on as Camden Council plays host to a one-of-a-kind pop-up forest to celebrate walking and cycling. Sixty trees will be temporarily plotted around the central dial monument in Covent Garden’s shopping village and the whole of Seven Dials will be transformed into a car-free haven. For one weekend only, you don’t have to choose shopping OR the great outdoors, you can do both. Shoppers – Camden Council are bringing the trees TO YOU.
The initiative is to encourage people to walk and cycle more, using greener modes of travel to improve health and reduce pollution. No doubt the streets will be brought to life with face painting, floor art, and interactive activities. Camden Council will be showcasing their new “Air Quality Bubble Map” and Kings College London will be there with fun air quality activities and advice. It’s the perfect example of using the high street (if you can call Covent Garden that) in a different way, for fun, learning and social interaction.
Stores will also be offering one-off discounts and gifts. So who is this really for?
Once the day is over all trees will be moved and planted in new plots across the borough of Camden for people to enjoy on a permanent basis. All of this is good. I think I’m just hinting at something the Government really needs to consider their place on with initiatives like the Portas Review – is the economy of central importance over sustainability and wellbeing? Can we be using the high streets in different ways, ways which perhaps don’t generate revenue? Am I being idealist? Babbling? Probably.
You should go though, it sounds fun. I’ll be in the New Forest.