Apple has announced that it is renaming all its 500 stores worldwide as “Town Squares”.

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Wow! I am really looking forward to going into my local store to see the Christmas lights being switched on this year.

Anyone who thinks a true “public space” can be found online needs to get out more.

Are Apple really in that much trouble, with stagnating growth and another hugely overpriced Apple phone the X (ten, that’s Roman numerals you know)? OK, I know I’m offending at least half my readers, but this is so clearly patent nonsense one has to wonder?

Anyway, it gives me a great excuse to do a couple of book reviews about real “Town Squares” and place management. The first is hot of the press; “Mainstreet Management: Successful Retail Strategies” by David West. David is based in Adelaide, South Australia and was a founder member and later Chairman of Mainstreet SA and has worked in Australia, New Zealand as well as in London (with me at ATCM etc.). His book brings together the wisdom drawn from working in a multiplicity of locations and he looks at what makes places work with the sharp eye of a shopping centre manager and retailer.

This is a really practical book. He starts with “Picking up papers in “my” mainstreet”. As a former retailer myself, I can really relate to this most basic element in the hierarchy of need. I still find it hard to walk through a store and not pick up a discarded till receipt. OK, there are two reasons for the. Firstly, the presentation of a clean store/street. But secondly, you can bet someone will pick up the receipt, go and find a product from it on the shelves then ask for a refund! (David also has a chapter on Crime Reduction Strategies).

I’m working currently on a project to revitalise a shopping street that is not in single ownership, so David’s chapter on Creating a Better Business Mix is relevant to me right now. This has something for even the most experienced practitioner, as well as a fantastic introduction to place management. He also looks a governance, measuring performance and the essential ingredients of effective events. From my experience in Town and City Management I think this book clearly sets out what “excellent” looks like but more importantly is easy to follow and therefore understand in helping achieve excellence in your high street or mainstreet. This excellent resource is available now at www.premierretailmarketing.com.au

The second book I’d like to mention to you is a decade old and is described as a DIY Guide to Placemaking. “The Great Neighborhood Book”, written by Jay Walljasper for the Project for Public Space in New York. I was lucky enough to train with PPS some years ago and have always found their output highly relevant. While David’s books is the toolkit for place, Jay’s is about the people that inhabit it and make it special. It’s a handbook for communities to use and uses success stories from around the world to set out how to go about making any town centre come alive. I’ve used a number of quotes from this book over the years, but one of my favourites is,

“Stop, Look, Listen: The best way to improve a place is to pay close attention to how people use it”.

On one occasion, to find out how a place ticked, I went into the market place and stopped random people in the street and said, “If you come along to the Red Lion at 6pm tonight we’ll buy you a drink and give you a tenner for an hour of you time”. We did two separate groups, an hour of women and an hour of men. I learned so much in those hours (well, one of them) about how the centre was used it was the best investment I ever made I think.

PS My phone is a Wiley Fox on Android if you hadn’t guessed 

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