Town and City Centre Management and the Creation of Equitable Urban Environments

Subject: Design
Pages: 6
Words: 1562
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: PhD

Overview and Objectives

In the last few years there has been enhanced interest in town centre management and the study of its related issues. Ever since the first town centre manager was appointed in 1987, 240 new schemes have been introduced in regard to town/city centre management in the UK (the Association of Town & City Management, 2013). Nevertheless, several studies have focused on the need to adopt alternative and comprehensive approaches in order to address the complex issues that have emerged in regard to town centre management, particularly after the privatisation of the sector (Alshuwaikhat & Nkwenti 2002; Minton 2006; Curry 2011).

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On the other hand, the situation is different in countries such as Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East that have introduced privatisation of town centre management. However, little success has been achieved by these countries (Ghanem &Elfakhani 2011). It is in this context that the objective of this paper is to add further knowledge to the debate by:

  • Providing valuable insights into the nature of city centre management.
  • Understanding the implications of the privatisation within city centres.
  • Improving the current management system and decision-making process by:
    • Evaluating the current approaches
    • Discovering the possibility of applying alternative approaches
    • Providing assistance in coping with privatisation issues in the UK and delivering better managed city centres.
  • Analysing the current regulatory framework and suggesting an improved framework, while integrating and adopting the current management approaches with the new approaches.
  • Investigating how such frameworks could be applied in ‘the Gulf States’ (esp. Saudi Arabia).

Brief Literature Review

In the UK and in other parts of the developing world, enhanced processes of urban and rural development have given rise to new complexities because of the use of new technologies and emergence of financing issues. Moreover, with privatization of public spaces, developers and investors have started showing lesser interest in improving upon the emotional and cultural values of these places. An immediate outcome of privatization has been that private developers have started considering city centres as commodities that are produced for the sole objective of making profits. It is for this reason that there has been significant change in the construction of city centres.

In attempts to get maximum returns from their investments, private developers are now more inclined towards managing public spaces for exclusive uses. It is true that enhanced privatisation of public and civic spaces does result in better quality of construction and facilities, thus creating the potential for improving the quality of people’s lives. But this trend also creates the potential of undermining the quality of life for others that are excluded from the facilities (Williams and Green 2001).

Town and city centre

It is known that town and city centres are also given other names such as Central Business District (CBD), downtown, central commercial district, downtown business district, urban core and central city (Murphy 2009). The concept of city centre has attracted much attention amongst researchers in varied disciplines such as planning, geography and social science. The main reason for such enhanced interest is the emergence of several urban issues relative to the difficulties of access, severe overcrowding, inadequate parking facilities and increasing land values (Murphy, 2009).

At the same time, it is known that majority of such issues have arisen because central business districts or town and city centres are widely perceived to be easily accessible within the city (Tali et al 2012). Additionally, it is also known that city centres are characterized with a number of distinct features and characteristics that are well substantiated in the literature. According to Williams (2003), there are three main stakeholders in the management of city centres:

  1. Producers (i.e. property owners, developers, investors, retailers, construction and design professionals);
  2. Users (i.e. employees, shoppers, residents and visitors);
  3. Local and national governments, public agencies, exchange professionals, and community organisations.

In addition, there are a wide variety of private and public services, social connections, quality of response and the prevailing atmosphere in the city centre that have a strong bearing on the experiences of visitors (ATCM Key Cities Group 2010).

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City Centre Management Approaches

City Centre Management is defined by ATCM Key Cities Group (2010) as a co-ordinated pro-active initiative designed to ensure that town and city centres prove to be desirable and attractive places. In addition, consequent to meaningful partnerships between the public and private sectors, such initiatives lead to the creation of a wide variety of interests, which have four major functional elements; attraction, accessibility, amenities and actions (ATCM Key Cities Group 2010).

As per findings of the ATCM Key Cities Group (2010), the effective management of destinations is much dependent on the collaborative efforts of several organizational entities and stake-holders who must work together by demonstrating strong vision, strong strategies and shared objectives. This results in the delivery of outstanding values, which in turn allow the destination to command a reputation of being characterized with integrity and viability.

The ATCM Key Cities Group (2010) also reported that such objectives can be achieved only if efforts are made in the right direction by way of establishing partnerships between city centres. However, Anna Minton (2006) has pointed to the need for adopting alternative approaches, which help in coping with and effectively dealing with issues emanating from privatisation. The alternatives in this regard are ‘place attachment’ and ‘Community Land Trusts’ (CLT) (Minton 2006). In this regard, an extra element has been added by Alshuwaikhat and Nkwenti (2002), who hold that it is imperative to adopt an integrated strategy if the systems performance of city centres is to be improved. This would also lead to better outcomes due to better human interactions and efficiently controlled processes.

It is in this context that the authors recommended the use of visualised decision making because it helps in achieving better outcomes consequent to enhanced public participation. Another opinion has been given by Childs et al (2013) who hold that the adaptive co-management techniques incorporate collaborative and learning strategies in expanding the levels of knowledge. This also provides larger numbers of creative options to institutional entities contributing towards meeting the challenges of sustainability.

Theories of Urban Structure/Growth

This part of the research places greater focus in examining a variety of urban structure and growth theories that help in understanding the working of city centres. According to Murphy (2009, p. 5) there are four important theories that contribute to understanding of city centres:

  • Concentric Zone Theory;
  • Sector Theory;
  • Multiple-nuclei Theory; and
  • Central-Place Theory.

Equitable Urban Environments (Equitable Development)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2013, p. 5) has described equitable development as a process that relates to varied systems that create healthful, lively and maintainable societies in which people of all ethnicities, religions and income levels can benefit from the available facilities and services, which are required by them to remain happy and contented. The Agency has held that the critical elements of equitable development also imply the existence of situations in which all members of the community get opportunities of participation and of demonstrating their leadership abilities. This implies that strategies involving the public at large go a long way in improving the outcomes from place focused approaches.

Privatisation of Public Space

Privatisation of public space refers to situations in which public spaces are owned and controlled by private landowners. In some cases, they may be managed privately on behalf of public organizations (Curry 2011). Altman and Zube (1989) stated that increasing private control over public spaces can be viewed as the transfer of ownership from local government to private developers. Such privatisation has led to the creation of several issues that have become an area of major concern for managements of city centres.

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Research Key Questions

This research seeks to address the following questions and sub-questions:

  • To what extent do issues emerging from the privatisation of public spaces within city centres influence:
    • Image of public spaces and city centres;
    • Function(s) within public spaces and city centres;
    • Perceptions and experiences at city centres;
    • Visitors’ behaviour and emotions;
    • Frequency of visits; and
    • Type (classification) of visits/visitors.
  • What are the possible approaches that could be integrated with the current approaches and applied to deliver better managed city centres?
  • Who needs to be involved in improving city centre management?
    • What would be the key roles of the stakeholders (e.g. visitors) to improve city centre management?
    • To what extent does expanding public participation (involvement) reduce the negative effects of the private regulation (issues) of public spaces? Why it seems essential?
  • How can the current framework be improved?
  • What are the main challenges facing the application of the new approaches?
  • How can such frameworks be applied in middle-eastern countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia).


The research-methodology in this study will focus on collecting and analysing primary and secondary data. In order to gather primary data, the methodology will use the following methods:

  1. Carrying out a survey questionnaire amongst public space visitors.
  2. Interviewing relevant experts (i.e. semi-structured interviews).
  3. Observational analysis.

This research will also use a combination of literature review and case study review. By examining some of the best practices and approaches adopted by national and international managements of city centres, it will become possible to conduct a thorough analysis that can be used as another part of the research methodology. The data collected in addressing the research questions will be analysed through a ‘mixed methods approach’ including qualitative and quantitative techniques.


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Altman, I & Zube, E1989, Public Places & Spaces.Vol. 10, Human Behavior and Environment. Plenum, New York Association of Town and City Management 2013,“Successful Town Centres – Developing Effective Strategies: Understanding Your High Street”. Web.

ATCM Key Cities Group 2010, ‘City Centre Management and Destination Marketing: Opportunities for Collaboration’. Web.

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