Posted tagged ‘shopping’

Killing the city centre

August 3, 2011

What you see below is a photograph of the street that is the heart of Aberdeen’s City Centre: Union Street. For Irish readers, it is an interesting curiosity that the street was named to mark the Act of Union of 1800 that integrated Ireland into the United Kingdom; and not, as is sometimes assumed locally, the Act of Union 1707 that created the union between Scotland and England. Anyway, back to the photo.

Union Street, Aberdeen, July 2011

Union Street is a fairly wide street with elegant granite buildings on either side. But it looks and feels neglected; indeed, it is neglected. In the recent past the city gave planning permission for a major shopping mall, which is about three minutes’ walk from where this photo was taken. This mall, located by the railway station, contains a number of upmarket shops and a variety of food outlets and restaurants. It has sucked the retail life out of Union Street, where a significant number of buildings now stand empty, or contain downmarket food outlets, or mobile phone shops (of which there appear to be dozens).

In addition, Union Street is (as the photo shows) a main traffic thoroughfare, and at all times of the day it is extremely busy, again affecting the pedestrian experience. At night it is used mainly by young people, often inebriated and excessively noisy, and a major nocturnal feature is the sight of men urinating against shop doorways.

Overall, Aberdeen is an elegant city, which has been spared the worst ravages of the recession. But what should be its heart – Union Street – is a disgrace. It should be pedestrianised, its buildings should be cleaned up, there should be trees and other aesthetic elements. In short, it should acquire some of the features that are now recognised worldwide as being necessary for a healthy city centre.

None of what I am saying here is new or original. It is a matter of consensus in Aberdeen that something must be done. Only, nothing is being done. It is time to act, and in recognition of this I have established an expert group in my university to work on some proposals that we will then put to the city and its stakeholders. Revitalising Aberdeen’s city centre is now urgent.

Utilitarian toy hamsters

November 28, 2009

I’m trying to get my head around this one. According to an Irish Times report, shoppers availing of the post-Thanksgiving shopping sales in the United States have, as the report puts it, maintained a ‘utilitarian focus that has replaced bubble-era excess since last September’s Wall Street crash.’

That’s good to know. And what, therefore, are they buying? DIY manuals? Home oil-changing kits for their cars? Cookbooks for meals under $10? No. What’s flying off the shelves, the same report tells us, are ‘Zhu Zhu pet robotic hamsters‘. Yes, that makes perfect sense.

The recession, morale and confidence

March 9, 2009

One of the by-products of a recession is falling morale and confidence, and this has further consequences that can accelerate the recessionary trend. So we have been told that in the UK the gloomy economic news stories had an adverse effect on consumers and stopped them from spending, even where they had the money. The same pattern is emerging in Ireland. Therefore the effect is that falling retail sales reduce profits in that sector and in the industries that supply it, and that in turn creates problems in those sectors, with growing unemployment a result. This is then aggravated further by the process that is taking money out of people’s pockets through pay cuts and tax increases (however necessary that is). It’s a vicious spiral that aggravates the downturn. It could be said that if there is a patriotic duty right now, it is to go out and do some shopping. You are saving jobs, and indeed possibly your own job, when you do so.

The same is true in the university sector. With every day’s new gloomy news about funding cuts and declining prospects, of deficits and emergency measures, confidence is further eroded, and with that there is a risk of lethargy and listlessness which will further damage our prospects. We cannot immediately change either government policy or the current economic trends, but we can stop ourselves being mesmerised by all this. Hard times are not always bad times to innovate, and DCU initially grew in a climate that was not much more favourable than what we are now experiencing. The new DCU strategic plan, which will be launched over the next month or two, will point a way forward beyond the current difficulties and will, I hope, give the university community some sense of purpose.

We do however also need a sense of national purpose and vision. I still hope that this will be set out clearly and confidently before long. We need it.