Towns are a key element of global urban infrastructure. At the scale of nations, they are nodes of labour force, local production and tourism. Across regions, networks of towns connect people and infrastructure at scale.
In Scotland, despite the continued drive toward urbanised city economies, 69% of the population still lives in its towns and villages. Most of our towns are essentially creations of the industrial age which began to gather force around the middle of the 18th century. However, from the 1970’s onwards, de-industrialisation across Scotland led to a major shift in the economy towards a service sector base and whilst cities were quick to replace shipbuilding and manufacturing with finance, business services, education, retail and tourism, our towns found it more difficult to reinvent their role and function. Once the mining, manufacturing, steel, textiles or quarrying had gone, by the late 1980's many of our towns were left to reinvent and rediscover their role.
But our towns remain important places to us, they are a living legacy of our history and culture, even the most cynical amongst us will have an emotional attachment to their home town or village, a childhood memory, a sense of pride and identity, we acknowledge their famous sons and daughters, it’s who we are, part of our fabric and DNA.
Our towns are not homogenous and whilst some are doing well, many are at a crossroads. The continued drift of talent and youth to city economies, structural changes in retail where we use tablets, online, click and collect, out of town and destination shops, the ongoing impact of the economic recession, dysfunctional property and housing markets, welfare reform, increased migration, less disposable local income and a fast shrinking public sector. The issues are complex and there is no silver bullet solution but a good start to the fight back is to energise and empower people and communities. Lets get businesses and councils working together and reconnecting with the community they serve – it has come full circle in terms of local, ethical and social.
Fundamentally Places are about people and although the way we live our lives has changed dramatically in a generation, we still depend on our towns for meeting friends, for shopping, entertainment, leisure, history, heritage, tourism, culture, public services and for transport. We also depend on them for jobs and businesses, towns continue to make an important economic contribution, they allow us to share resource and services. The places that we live in also have a fundamental impact on our wellbeing and successful places are where people feel engaged and where they play a role in owning, designing and shaping its future. Recent work by the Carnegie UK Trust highlights the benefits of PLACES THAT LOVE PEOPLE.
The future will be a mix of cities and towns which are innovative and embrace change and which offer a good quality life and a sense of like-minded community, the human factor is the driver to achieve this, let's adopt the Governments Can Do Agenda and deliver an economy which is competitive but also socially just. Let’s look at how we can embrace the key themes of accessibility, enterprise, digital, living, community and proactive planning.
STP Chief Officer, Phil Prentice