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Blueprint for future high street shows tech’s role in creating thriving communities

Technology will play an important role in creating thriving communities after Covid-19 lockdowns renew interest in local high streets

The high street and local community of the future will prosper through a combination of the latest technologies, personalisation and human contact, according to a blueprint for the future commissioned by Metro Bank.

Technologies such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles will play a key role in creating thriving local communities, it said.

The bank tasked consumer-focused futurist Will Higham to create a blueprint for future local communities, and at the same time commissioned a survey of what people want from the high street of the future.

With fears that the digital world is replacing traditional high streets, the Metro Bank-commissioned survey revealed that over 90% of 16-24 year-olds believe more face-to-face interaction would make the world a nicer place, while 61% of them and 67% of those over 55 would like to be on first-name terms with people in local stores.

Nearly half (49%) of all surveyed said the Covid-19 lockdowns have increased their interest in the local community.

The blueprint for the high street of 2040, by Higham, reveals the important role of digital technology in bringing communities together.

It includes a micro-hospital nestled next to an AI-powered grocery, and a small factory making local goods next-door to a florist that makes deliveries using drones.

Read more about future tech on the high street

There is also a cinema showing films made locally, rather than Hollywood blockbusters, and shops where everybody knows your name.

“Far from the vision of a detached, tech-driven world devoid of social interaction, the blueprint suggests that the nation’s strong desire for face-to-face contact and putting the ‘local’ back into local communities (both accelerated by the pandemic), will see the emergence of completely new kinds of micro high streets and hyper-local neighbourhoods, with technology playing a role in driving more face-to-face opportunities, not less,” said Metro Bank.

The high street of 2040

  • Technology will help shopkeepers to recognise every customer by sight, including their full name, to provide a more personalised experience. AI software will also enable them to keep an inventory of everything their customers do and want.
  • High street shops selling local products will use drones to deliver to residents and other businesses.
  • Micro factories using advanced 3D printing technology will appear on high streets with local production, reducing transportation and providing quick access to more products for those outside of the main urban centres.
  • Neighbourhoods will have their own micro-hospitals and GP surgeries will be expanded to include beds and even surgery space.
  • Micro-cinemas will also open that only show films chosen by local residents, or even filmed by locals.
  • Many high streets will have their own currency – or local vouchers – and offer discounts to those showing local “passports”. 
  • High streets will have distinct commercial themes, attracting relevant services to the area.
  • Every high street will be car-free and fully pedestrianised, but autonomous cars will pick visitors up from their homes and drop them off at the edge of the high street.
  • The high street will house more neighbourhood co-op schemes including crèches and volunteer-run micro-tourism offices.
  • Future high streets will cater to a community borrowing and bartering with product libraries where residents can borrow specialist items.

Will Higham said Britons’ renewed love of community following Covid-19 lockdowns is one of the biggest trends seen in the past 10 years.

“Anxiety around our globalised world is making Britons look back at the way communities used to live with renewed interest,” he said. “That’s true of young and old alike.

“Check out how well vinyl records and board games are selling with Gen Z,” said Higham. “It’s not a luddite rejection of technology, though. As the report shows, innovations like AI and e-commerce can actually help bring communities closer together. Building a bright future for the local high street will be about combining the best of the present with the best from centuries past.” 

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