Fargate has long been recognised as Sheffield’s central shopping thoroughfare, but in recent years the retail focus for the city centre has shifted to the Heart of the City developments on The Moor and shops have closed in increasing numbers on the famous old street. While this may seem like a negative for Fargate, Coda’s Matt Bowker tells unLTD why he thinks this isn’t necessarily the case, and outlines a vision to reinvent Fargate as Sheffield’s answer to Bareclona’s world-famous Las Ramblas (if a slightly less sunny version!)…

There’s a big discussion about Fargate at the moment. It was traditionally the shopping street in Sheffield. That’s not the case anymore. The focus for the retail environment in Sheffield is shifting over to the Heart of the City and The Moor, and that’s been happening for some years now.

Matt Bowker
Managing Director at Coda, Matt Bowker

Recently, we’ve had HSBC saying they’re coming out of Fargate and a lot of people see that as a negative for the city. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I see it as an opportunity, because we’re retaining those shops and those amenities within the centre anyway, they’re just moving to another part of city.

Regardless, Fargate is changing and units are becoming available, so I think there’s a real opportunity to create a mixed-use environment, which, much like Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas, also needs to incorporate some elements of residential.

It needs to have people coming and going; it needs to have activities and people spilling out into the streets. Very much an idyllic central European street, where you’ve got apartments above you and people chatting outside of little cafes and restaurants, giving it a much
different feel.

The idea struck me that Fargate could be similar to Las Ramblas when I was walking past, after the controversial shipping containers had been removed. Looking down the street, the proportionsare quite similar to Las Ramblas, in terms of the height of the buildings and the
width of the public realm between them. I started seeing the similarity.

fargate mockup
Fargate currently, compared to Las Ramblas

It got me thinking about how, if we did include those residential functions, if we had little boutique hotels, if you put some canopies over some of the units, created restaurants and cafes, and people were living above, with kids coming down and playing in the streets, we could create a really nice environment for everyone, not just the people that live and work in Sheffield, but also visitors to the city.

Whilst all this might sound fanciful, initiatives to reposition Fargate away from predominantly retail to a more vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian street have already begun.

Works are already underway to deliver new landscaping, green planting, seating areas and lighting which will see Fargate’soutdoor areas transformed into vibrant, welcoming spaces for all to enjoy.

Event Central will be a new 6-storey community hub, bringing together entertainment, culture, art, performance, co-working, exhibitions, workshops, talks and events, and a licensed, 200-capacity live music venue.

Sheffield City Council is also doing great work with commercial partners on the Front Door Scheme, which aims to unlock upper floors and increase access for new homes and offices in key buildings.

fargate mockup
Virtual plans for future of Fargate High Street

There are obviously still things that need to happen to achieve Sheffield’s mini version of Las Ramblas, but quite often people are very quick to be negative about Sheffield and they read a lot of negativity into how the city is changing. A lot of that comes from the city itself and its media.

There will always be people to tell you why there isn’t a good reason to do something. That’s why we need visionary people to have the confidence to encourage people to invest and buy into a new concept.

I know the council are talking to landlords and trying to get them on board to create something better, because if we do nothing, then Fargatre deteriorates and everyone loses. It’s in everyone’s interest to make Fargate better and more successful. You have to create value, and it has to start somewhere.

We should always look to other places that have done successful regeneration, successful urban design, and successful placemaking and take the lessons learned from those cities and apply it to Sheffield, but do it in our own way. I wouldn’t want us to do a copy of Las Ramblas, but I think we can take elements from that successful street and incorporate it into Fargate, creating our own very successful street. We’re talking about the most prominent street in the fifth biggest city in the UK, so surely we can make something successful work here.

What I try to do is see where the opportunity is. If you mention Las Ramblas, straightaway everyone’s heard of it, it’s one of most famous streets in the world, people can make the connection with what you’re trying to say about how Fargate could be similar.

I believe that if you fast forward the next five or ten years, Fargate could be a very different place and it could be a great place for the city, and who knows? it could be our version of Las Ramblas.


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