We asked ourselves a question: “Can a sign above a High Street building ever do anything other than promote and brand; can it ask questions, be part of a conversation with other signs… can our High Street ever be a space that prioritises people as well as sales?”
Whose downturn is this?
As a species we show ourselves to be resilient and forever adaptable, but what true opportunities are there between the moss and the ‘for sale’ signs? How do we re-make the spaces between the High Streets we remember and what is left when our High Street no longer meets the bottom line of the multinationals?
Our town centres have grown out of a need to gather, connect, meet, barter and exchange. Dumfries owes its place to the river, the cattle marts and the passage of people. But from our largely rural context, Dumfries has also been the gathering point, the melting pot of communities meeting and exchanging, not just economically but socially, our connection out into the world.
‘A marketplace (rather than ‘market’) is a sociable space in which buying and selling take place surrounded by other activities, a place you come to see friends, to hear stories, to argue about ideas. Crucially, unlike a Starbucks or a department store, it is a space where your welcome is not determined purely by your abilities to spend money.’*
Dumfries stands at a point questioning its identity, and it’s place within the world. Primark may not have arrived, but there is an air of anticipation and change whispering quietly amongst a growing number of the town’s communities. Now is the time to search for the new role we can play in creating the future of Dumfries, to reach out for a possible Dumfries.
Dumfries is not dead, only sleeping. Hidden Dumfries is in plain sight, behind the sagging bus stances and single occupancy street furniture.
Now is the time to act.
This action does not require grand master planners, or large scale redevelopment, but a little collective energy and small positive acts. Testing and experimentation, problem solving and lightweight interventions can lead the way to a more active high street, looking forward to a more valuable town centre. Small actions can highlight, question, explore and initiate discussion, growing from an inquisitive response to our everyday.
This is a call for new distractions.
Can we create a new visual language for our high streets?
*Dougald Hine, Space Makers. Quoted in how to save our town centres, by Julian Dobson.