Disease caused by doctors is called ‘iatrogenic’. There is a lot of it about. But it maybe that we will have to come up with a new word, invented for the recession, for economic disease caused by regenerators. And the worst of the iatrogenic disease caused by conventional regeneration is the over-supply of heavily subsidised shopping centres.
Many of them, like the new Westfield shopping centre that now dominates Shepherd’s Bush, are now busily moving round retail business that existed before, draining existing centres and smaller shops in particular. Other new supermarkets, so excessive in their provision in the past decade, are now draining nearby high streets – making local economies and their populations more dependent and more vulnerable to global recession than they were before.
That has been the legacy of the expansion of Tesco in the UK and Wal-mart in the USA. More dependence, less enterprise.
Now we are in a global down-turn, these things matter enormously. Because their local councillors have colluded with powerful retailers to build a new supermarket, they will be poorer than they would have been.
So the first impact of the triple crunch on UK retailing is going to be a new way of measuring the impact of potential shopping infrastructure, working out the impact plans are likely to have on the local circulation of money. Will it keep money in local circulation and build local economic independence, or will it corrode it?
The other impact is going to come from the energy crisis. If oil is going to be a great deal more expensive – and it is – then the whole basis of our monopolistic retailing is going to have to change. We will no longer be able to fly in tomatoes from the Caneries, or shuttle vegetables down to Italy and back for packaging. We will have to reconnect local people with local production, because it will be affordable.
The third effect is going to be the increasing cynicism of people when they are faced with marketing, spin or corporate claims. There is already a growing demand for what is authentic, real, unspun, local and human – not yet by anything near a majority, but a growing minority nonetheless. This, and the other impacts, are going to change retailing enormously: shops will be smaller, and their networks will be more local, more responsive.