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A new Union Street is going to require support from everyone

20230315 Bob Keiller 004

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

This is the wisdom of Jane Jacobs, one of the world’s best-known and respected urbanists, and her words are as true today as when she first said them in 1961.

Because even as trends come and go, shops open and close, and economic fortunes ebb and flow, city centres are fundamentally about one thing; people.

When we undertook the task of reversing the fortunes of Union Street, there was only one place we could start, and that was with the citizens who call this city home.

Since we launched in March, the public response has been overwhelming, with over 10,000 ideas submitted to our team.

Those 10,000 ideas became 17 themes – and today those themes have become five action areas that we will spend the next few years delivering against.

Today we have released a paper on how together, as a community, we can regenerate, repopulate and reinvigorate our Granite Mile.

Summed up in a sentence, we want to brighten the street, fill the units, use the space, tell the stories which lie behind our famous granite walls, and fully engage the people of Aberdeen in this urban revival.

And we are already taking steps to meet these objectives.

We are building an army of volunteers and skilled trades people who are willing to give their time to clean up the street, and very soon you will see them deployed around the city centre in distinctive purple vests.

We have launched one of the best incentive packages available anywhere in the UK, meaning that new occupiers taking on long-term vacant units will benefit from up to two years rent and business rate free under a support package drawn-up and partly funded by Our Union Street.

We know the leads won’t come to us, and that we need to go find them ourselves - so next month we will be commissioning a new website and digital marketing effort which will, literally, sell Aberdeen and Union Street to business owners locally and all over the UK.

All of this effort will be underpinned by our growing community, and in total we have engaged with nearly 3,000 people since launching.

However, we are just at the start line.

In line with the Jane Jacobs vision, a new Union Street will have something for everybody. But it is going to take everybody to deliver it.

Every single resident of this city can have a part to play, whether that contribution be big or small.

It could be as big as donating your time, or equipment, to support our efforts to tidy up the street and buildings.

It could be as simple as supporting the new businesses we hope to attract in the months and years ahead.

Or your contribution could be as small as holding back on that negative social media comment, choosing instead to talk up our city centre.

All of these things can, and will, make a difference.

However, fundamentally, our success will be based on getting your shoe leather on to Union Street.

While we have a challenge to attract tenants to the 40+ vacant units, we must not lose sight of the fact that three-quarters of the street is occupied.

These businesses need your support, and simply paying a visit is the most meaningful contribution we can all make.

Union Street is not what it used to be - it’s not what it should be, and it’s not what it can be.

People care about the state of Union Street; they care that many retail units sit empty and uninviting, they care about graffiti, litter, dirty buildings, weeds growing on balconies and the general upkeep of the street.

They want Union Street to be a safe, busy, energetic, thriving thoroughfare that compares favourably with the best of UK’s small cities.

And they want somebody to take responsibility for addressing these challenges and improving the street; a consistent, concerted effort with plans, actions and progress.

We are happy to take on that role and get stuck into the problems you have told us matter most – but we need everyone in Aberdeen to come with us.

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