High Streets and Town/City Centres

Image of a sereis of shops on a street. On the other side of the pavement are a series of trees that line the street. In front of 'the chocolat bar' shop sits a man with his dog and further along a group of women can be seen outside a store labelled 'shift boutique'

“In an ideal world the streets would be wide, and the shops would be set back off the streets. I find it difficult when people stop to look in shop windows, creating groups of people who are trying to move around them.”

focus group participant

Throughout our focus groups, people identified that city/town centres can be challenging due to the intense and sustained multisensory input. In particular there are often many overlapping layers of noise. This can come from a range of sources, such as people talking, street sellers, street musicians, noises from nearby shops/eateries and construction work. People identified that the fact that these noises can often be random and unexpected can make these more difficult to prepare for. While people identified that natural lighting is often better than artificial light, access to shade such as from trees can help to reduce the brightness. High levels of brightness, especially when combined with advertising and highly visual shopfronts can be overwhelming. These locations can also have a range of overlapping scents such as from food stalls or petrol fumes which can also be challenging, especially if these are unexpected.

These areas are often unpredictable, busy and crowded which are full of people. Our focus groups identified that wider pedestrianised streets can help to make these areas more accessible by reducing the volume of people in a confined space. Helping to increase the predictability of these locations can also help to make them easier to cope with, such as by increasing the amount of available information such as with maps, signage and help/information points. While it was identified that one-way systems can make a location easier to navigate, these are often not consistently used by others. People in the focus groups also identified it can be difficult to escape from the sensory input in town/city centres and high streets. The focus groups reported that locations with designated quieter, safe spaces to be able to recover in would help to make these spaces more accessible.

Questions for businesses and organisations to think about:

  • Do you have a quieter space that people can go if they are feeling overwhelmed? If not, is it possible to create one nearby for people to retreat to?
  • Are there dedicated times that street musicians are able to perform? Is it possible to share this information with people in advance so that they can avoid certain areas at these times of the day/week?
  • Do you have information available online about the location of different shops, eateries and other services? How often is this updated? Are people able to find out about events that might be happening in the city centre on certain dates such as festivals, protests, construction work and food markets?
  • Is there information available for people to access when in the location such as signs, maps and help desks?
  • Do you have shaded spaces that people can use? Is it possible to increase the amount of natural shade through plants and other sources?
  • Are there certain systems such as one-way systems in the area? Are these clearly marked for people to use?

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