After being battered by the pandemic in 2020, city and town centres will be hoping for better days in 2021. Here’s what three experts had to say about urban recovery and reinvention at CGA’s Big Peach 2020 Digital Experience.

Tom Bloxham, chairman of Urban Splash

“This crisis is a threat and an opportunity, and it’s how we react to it that matters. Many businesses are being hurt, but they’re responding in incredibly creative ways, and I think we’ll come out of this stronger. Sadly many won’t survive, but cities will reassert themselves as great places to visit, live and hang out, and show they’re more than just rows of shops.

All sorts of wonderful things are already happening. Streets that you would never go down now have people eating, and others are being taken over by pedestrians and cyclists. Cities are living, growing organisms, and they belong to the people.

I think we’re going to see a rebirth of hospitality and retail with more independent and artisan businesses that make places interesting, exciting and different. People fundamentally love cities and social interaction, and they’re keen to get back. When we get over this crisis I see a real boom time for cities.”

John James, managing director of Soho Estates

“One of the good things that has come out of this is the cooperation between all stakeholders. We’ve had the best access we’ve ever had to councils, and it gave us the chance to promote al fresco eating. Soho was economically on its knees, but we worked together and the summer was very successful. Soho has always reinvented itself, because it’s an area of tolerance and ideas, and we’ve always had a lot of innovative restaurants and bars.

People need the joys of life that hospitality provides. The interaction with other human beings is a very important part of our health and wellbeing. Once the attractions, theatres and cinemas and so on are allowed to reopen, it’ll generate a big return to London.”

Suzanne Rosnowski, founder and CEO of Relevance International

“It’s a new era in New York City. Although businesses are struggling, culturally it’s about to have a new renaissance, and it’s an exciting and positive time. Hospitality has been hit so hard, but we’re going to get through this and we have to come together to make the new future of our cities work. We have to let go of some of the bureaucracy and red tape, up the ante of retail experiences and reimagine real estate. There’s a bubbling up of new and fresh ways of doing things, and everyone is rethinking how and why they do business and what makes them different and unique. Let this be a renaissance for the truly creative and innovative, and may the best ideas win.

The challenge is that everyone needs a trigger for everyone to get back. We have to come together and show up for our cities, together and at the same time. I don’t know how we’re going to unite, but we need some leadership and a plan on safety to usher it in.”

You can watch the full ‘Re-imagining the urban trading environment’ session at the Big Peach 2020 Digital Experience here.


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