Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The High Street by Alice Melvin

Once I moved to Edinburgh one of my first ports-of-call was Analogue Books, an art and design bookshop on Candlemaker Row. Analogue is a great spot to spend some time in, with a fab selection of art and design books, magazines, zines and even a small selection of beautifully illustrated children's books. One such book which caught my eye was The High Street by Alice Melvin, a fold-out book charting a little girl's afternoon searching the high street for the list of things she needs to buy.

As you can see from the images, The High Street is a really nicely illustrated journey through various shops, tea rooms and more. It's got something of an old-world feel to it, which may come down at least in aesthetic terms to Melvin being based here in Edinburgh (I don't know if you've been, but with much of the city's medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town intact, this place is a bit of a timewarp). Some of its old-world feel must also be attributed to the fact that few of us shop the way Melvin's young protagonist Sally does anymore, frequenting a number of specific retailers along a high street rather than hitting a large supermarket or shopping centre to buy everything we need under one roof. The High Street was published in 2011, and discussion here in the UK about the 'decline of the high street' rages on (a discussion we have in Ireland too, we just don't use the term 'high street' so much). The recent closure of 92-year old high street retailer HMV adds further to the downward spiral our town and city centres have been on as sources of commercial life.

Perhaps I'm making The High Street more of a call to arms than it is, but I do think that - whether this was Melvin's intention or not - it's a timely publication about and celebration of how our high streets and town city centres used to be. And while it's easy to romanticise their past and lament their present, perhaps now is the time to imagine their future: high streets may not return to what they were, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. We don't quite have the same use for high streets anymore, so what new uses might we find for them now? What might the high street look like in ten or twenty years time? What will bring Sally there in the future, what list of items will she need to find? Ideas on a postcard :)

Images via 1 | 2 | 3 | 4