The Times – Shopping may never be the same again. The next time you visit the high street you could be walking on pavements that emit birdsong, resting on benches that pump out filtered air, and browsing pop-up stalls covered in paint that purifies the air.
The New West End Company, which represents thousands of businesses, and Transport for London (TfL) have joined a group of technology companies to create what they claim is the world’s first “smart street” on Bird Street, near Selfridges department store. The rather overlooked side street off Oxford Street will be transformed into a traffic-free zone where shoppers can try out a host of emerging retail technology trends from Thursday.
They include pavements that generate electricity and gather data designed by the company Pavegen. They also emit bird sounds and lights to create ambience as well as providing information on numbers of visitors. Clean-air benches from Airlabs pump out filtered clean air and display up-to-the-minute details of air quality.
The street will also feature pop-up stalls covered with Airlite paint that claims to disinfect and sterilise the space around it, creating powerful protection against harmful bacteria and everyday infections.
Fashion, lifestyle and food businesses will be on the street in “origami- inspired” stalls from Harry Dobbs Design. They include High Mood Food, a café offering healthy food for the “brain and the gut”, Nina Ullrich, a leather designer, Cuemars, a lifestyle brand, and Ethical Stories Ethical Me selling homeware “for the conscious shopper”.
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company, said Bird Street would be transformed into a “blueprint for retail destinations of the future” at a time when high streets were struggling to survive.
A combination of changing shopping habits, the growth of internet retailing, rising business rates and other pressures has resulted in many high streets in the UK struggling to attract retailers and shoppers.
The British Retail Consortium has warned that the challenges facing the sector meant that many high streets, particularly those outside the southeast, could start losing jobs and local investment. Many retailers, councils and bodies such as the New West End Company are running trial initiatives to try to find ways to lure shoppers back to the high street.
Mr Tyrrell believed that the Bird Street initiative could “transform the future of retail as we know it” and was part of the wider planned transformation of Oxford Street, the capital’s most important shopping street, to “ensure it will be renowned as the world’s best outdoor shopping experience”.
Alex Williams, director of city planning at TfL, said: “It’s great to see an innovative ‘smart street’ scheme delivered on Bird Street, the concepts and ideas of which could easily be adapted across London.”