Salter on how to revitalise high streets by clearing clutter

Relocating both home and office in the last six weeks has opened up new horizons.

I am not talking about the local park that overlooks the river, although that is more than welcome. Rather, it has brought home to me just how many companies now exist to help declutter our immediate living environments. It would seem that entire business empires have been built on the sole principle that one man's rubbish is, well, just that actually - one man's rubbish.

Here is another strange thing that I have noticed. A consumer frenzy at your local IKEA is ten times more likely to wreck nerves and destabilise the most solid of familial ties than a jaunt down to the local dump. Honestly, the research is conclusive. Those in the queues to purchase cupboards, tables and chairs are miserable in the extreme, while those queuing to dispose of said items are positively gleeful in comparison.

It gets you thinking, particularly at a time when high streets up and down the country are enjoying their first flush of neon baubles. Are we paying the same kind of attention to clearing the clutter? Now, before you cry Grinch, this is by no means a moan about how we should all abandon the forthcoming festivities. However, it would seem to me that while a couple of fairy lights can undoubtedly raise spirits at Christmas, a more robust annual programme of removing redundant poles, railings, signage and posters, not to mention those benches that look out over roundabouts and arterial roads, might just be a whole lot more effective in boosting local morale.

Inevitably this leads me to Percent for Art, the internationally recognised approach of incorporating art into the physical environment by using a tiny proportion of the cost of building something to fund creative interventions in the locale. Again, don't get me wrong. I enjoy a well-placed Richard Serra as much as the next person, but I cannot help feeling that we are missing a trick. If you are going to allocate one per cent of your construction budget to something culturally uplifting, surely you should have a choice as to whether or not it goes on some site-specific piece of junk or if it might make much more sense to spend the same amount of money, or more, on removing structures in the immediate vicinity.

Call it minimalist, but I know which I would prefer. After all, it is almost impossible to get universal approval for a monument, but I have yet to hear complaints about the removal of broken bins, duplicate lamp poles and redundant railings. Chuck out the chintz may just have got a new lease of life.

Miffa Salter runs Urbancanda, an independent practice specialising in consultation and communication strategies. The views expressed are her own.


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