Are City Centres Doomed?

City centres should be remodeled as spaces for cultural understanding 

Acres Architects Founder and Managing Director Edward Acres, RIBA discusses how city centres are changing and how they need to reflect the modern culture and society needs.

The death of the city centre is a very real possibility unless developers and investors recognise the inevitable shift towards spaces of cultural understanding and enjoyment, says Edward Acres.

What were once vibrant areas in our cities now lie idle and I seriously fear for their future. A way out is for councils, investors and developers to work together and recognise the stark reality that the anthropology of our town and city centres has changed.

From analysis of the markets, it is clear we are about to experience an economic boom akin to that seen in the roaring 20s of the last century. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on shops closing down and a real worry about what lies ahead for our town and city centre spaces. But all that is happening is a character change – and a move towards Roman culture, where business will be done on the streets. City centres should become destinations for coffee, culture, museums and enjoyment.

Many years ago, twentysomethings would buy apartments in the city, close to the nightlife.The suburbs were always viewed as desirable for rearing children, settling down and moving on to that next stage of your life.  Even pre-Covid, there was a definite shift in recent years and Build to Rent trends are seeing more and more developers making use of disused buildings and remodelling them into much-needed housing.

John Lewis recently announced it will be moving into the residential property market by building 10,000 homes for rental over the next few years.

The department store chain said it wanted to address the national housing shortage and support local communities.

It was revealed that 7,000 of the initial 10,000 homes would be on sites in its existing property portfolio, ranging from studio flats to houses.

My firm has been inundated with enquiries from nightclub owners, shop owners and property investors seeking to remodel city centre buildings in Derby and Nottingham.

What John Lewis is doing is a smart move, and something already being repeated in other cities by the likes of Moda Living, Ballymore Group and the Select Property Group.

Key to this is that they all understand the importance of adapting to this change, and the all-important demand.

People want to live in apartments once more. Buyers are seeking low maintenance living with concierge services, in-house gym spaces and an easy pace of life.

The daily commute to work has become a thing of the past, thanks to Covid-19, and people want to make things easy for themselves. Put simply, people want more adaptable living spaces.

We are helping many property owners to realise the potential in any site by understanding what the market needs right now.

Our buildings must stand the test of time, and so as an architectural practice we must predict to some extent what trends will be coming next.

Build to Rent is a trend which is here to stay, and we are keen to hear from developers and investors seeking to stay ahead of the game.


Edward Acres is managing director of Nottingham-based Acres Architects. Visit, email or phone 0115 838 9738. 

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