Creating Prosperous City Centres Post-Pandemic Through Repurposing Retail Space

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Cardiff School of Planning and Geography


There are increasing concerns that city centre retail spaces are becoming obsolete in the UK and South Korea. Research shows that many cities in advanced economies have too much retail space and insufficient demand from retailers. This has led to high retail vacancy rates, particularly in city centres that have struggled in recent years to attract sufficient visitors to remain economically sustainable. The growth of e-commerce and online shopping, which has been further accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, has reduced the need for shoppers to visit physical retail centres. The pre-pandemic data showed that 24% of total retail sales in South Korea and 19% in the UK took place online (Savills, 2020), which suggests that the issue of redundant retail space is likely to get worse.
The issue of redundant retail space is a major concern for decision makers in the UK and South Korea. The UK Government recently published a policy paper entitled 'Build Back Better High Streets' (15 July 2021) which sets out the government's vision for the future of the high street. Previously, an independent review into UK high streets concluded that "high streets have reached a crisis point" (Portas, 2011). Similarly, the central government in South Korea introduced an Urban Regeneration New Deal project in 2017 to revitalise declining urban centres, followed by a Green New Deal project in 2021 to account for the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these efforts in both countries, key questions have remained unanswered: How should these important city centre spaces be repurposed? What is the role of urban planners and designers in repurposing these spaces? How should local communities be engaged in city centre transformations? And, how should retail repurposing projects be financed?
The accelerating trend of vacant and redundant retail space in city centres means, there is an urgent need to explore the repurposing of retail space in city centres. Repurposing is the crucial means of reimaging, redesigning, and regenerating city centres in the post-pandemic world. This collaboration therefore aims to share knowledge and experience of practice and research on the planning and regeneration of retail spaces in city centres in the UK and South Korea to identify current and future challenges and develop solutions. Through a series of workshops, site visits, and collaborations, we will advance our understanding of the evolving role of city centres in the post-pandemic world. We will explore creative ways to create activity-based community gathering places where retail is a smaller part of a more diverse and sustainable mix of commercial and leisure uses, and where green space, leisure, arts and culture, and health and social care services are combined with housing to create a space based on social and community interactions.
Specifically, the goals of the proposed activities will be to: 1) share UK and South Korean inter-disciplinary expertise on planning and regenerating retail spaces in city centres, 2) evaluate current efforts to redevelop vacant retail centres in South Korea and the UK, and consider the applicability of policy, design, and cultural transfer between contexts, 3) define the future challenges, opportunities, and gaps in knowledge related to repurposing retail spaces in city centres post-pandemic in South Korea and the UK, 4) jointly develop a new interdisciplinary network of researchers and a wider international network of practitioners focused on establishing a future research agenda on city centre transformation post-pandemic. Drawing on a range of disciplinary and contextual knowledge we will seek to understand the challenges facing city centres as well as identify solutions. This project will achieve this by bringing together expertise across a range of disciplines relating to the built environment, including urban planning, real estate, economics, geography, and urban design.


10 25 50