Another aspect of our towns that we need to think about is the role of the town centre. Thought has already been given to what might be done in the immediate term to address the changing nature of how we use our town centres now that more and more shopping is done online or in out-of-town developments. It seems very likely that this trend will continue and that there will be substantial changes in what a town centre is for and how it is used. Preventing decline is of course important but we need to think beyond that. Will there ever be as many small retailers again? Can we sustain more economic activity if we follow a plan of localising consumption and production? If shop units are no longer viable as shops, might they become service hubs? Or be repurposed for micro and craft manufacture? Could they become shared facilities such as workshops or studios where people could get free or inexpensive access to tools? Might new working practices mean they can be hot-desks from which remote and home workers can work? Should they become where we run our childcare? Might they become spaces that help and support activism and hobbies? Do they become the place where a 'ting' meets?
Social and economic trends appear to be moving in opposite directions. What used to draw us into the city (large scale industries) is largely gone, and there is every scope for disaggregating the economy out across towns and even villages. At the same time, online retail and banking means that many of the services we expected to have in our town are not needed to the same extent. We are seeing an end to the need for spacial concentrations (lots of people in one place) at the same time as an increase in the concentration of services away from 'spaces' altogether. There is a case for taking a 'nextgen' strategy and having a large and participative national review of what town centres, towns, villages and cities should be like in decades to come—and how best we can get there.