Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tottenham Hale Retail Park: A Study in the City as Shopping

Having resolved to visit Tottenham Hale twice a week, I began yesterday, under grey skies and showered lightly with drizzle.

Tottenham Hale is both a pilot study and a case study for the research project. I am using it both to test research methods, and as one of three case studies which represent typical conditions in London.  Its typicality lies in its swathes of housing constructed for 19th century commuters; its railway and tube links (it is approximately a 30 minute journey to Victoria) and the fact that it has grown with and from the high road which connects it to the centre. The texture of identikit streets of housing also relate to secondary high roads, which connect the roads which radiate from the centre.

Like innumerable London suburbs (for example, there is a similar place in Charlton, and another in North Greenwich), a big chunk of Tottenham Hale has been filled with a mecca for the shopper, particularly the shopper who wishes to purchase everything for £1; or who wants to find their clothes and shoes in the same store where they buy their groceries . . . it is a retail park.

The stunning Retail Park: a Great Shopping Experience for All The Family

Tottenham Hale Retail Rark is grey (as all retail parks seem to be), and consists in large sheds, filled with oversized stores, tastefully arranged around a sea of car parking, with 620 spaces in all. The ASDA is the biggest one I have ever seen, and there are 21 other chain stores and restaurants available to choose from: Argos, B&Q, Boots, Burger King, Carpet Right, Carphone Warehouse, Currys, Comet, Costa, Coffee, Halfords, JD Sport, KFC, Lidl, Next, 02, PC World, Pound World, Pizza Hut, Staples and Subway.

Walking about, I was clutched with an urge to pick up a few things 'while I'm here', as though things are not available to purchase in other locations. Oddly, a high street full of shops does not have this effect on me, I am more inclined to buy what I need, have a coffee and go home.  A similar thing happens to me when I go to a giant supermarket to do some shopping . . . and I come away with lots of things which I did not intend to buy. I was trying to unpick why this might be, and I have concluded that it is because both supermarkets and retail parks and physically unpleasant places to be. The massive car park, the over-scaled grey facades; the life here is about purchasing and delivering goods, and about nothing else.

I watched some staff members from the shops come outside to smoke, and loiter by the blank walls, conversing with each other, but they were the only people who paused on the footpaths, everyone else escaped the oppressiveness as soon as possible, ducking inside the stores to relieve the unpleasantness of the place with the buzz of purchase. There is nowhere to sit, unless inside the Costa, drinking an extremely expensive hot beverage (a flapjack and a cup of tea cost me about £3.50).
In its anti-social-life design, the retail park successfully encourages visitors to focus solely on spending their money.

This morning on the Today Programme, Mary Portas (Queen of Shops) was discussing her proposed review for the government on the future of the local English high street, which is becoming empty of independent shops and becoming a 'ghost town'. Evan Davies suggested that the internet is killing the high street, but it seems more likely that prior to the explosion of internet shopping, it was retail parks and giant supermarkets which sucked the life (and continue to suck the life) out of town centres.

Thinking about the future for shopping in cities, most high streets have typologies which can support a range of uses, responding flexibly to economic changes. In contrast, everything about the retail park is focussed on consumption, and specifically consumption in high-rent, massive chain stores. If you build a place which can only be for shopping, and then invent a way for people to buy things more cheaply . . . then you have dug your own grave. The internet is the 'retail park' of the present era; it is easier, and cheaper than the high street, but it has none of the other constituent parts for the support and structuring of social and civic life.


  1. http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/politics/politics-headlines/high-street-inquiry-takes-about-four-seconds-201105173826/

  2. Are you suggesting that the internet will be the death of the retail park but the high street will adapt to provide different services?