Can Central London Come Back to Life?

LONDON — London has been back in action since April, but the central part of town is still missing the buzz of the pre-COVID-19 era: Travel bans and continued office closures have kept the city center quiet and what was previously a high-demand retail hub has been left with one too many vacant storefronts.

But there’s a collective effort to bring the center back to life.

Starting today, Stella McCartney is bringing some action back into the area by taking over the giant outdoor screens at Piccadilly Circus for seven days, to screen her label’s fall 2021 “Our Time Has Come” campaign.

To mark the launch, McCartney — who is fresh off the G7 Summit — is taking her sustainability mission a step further by staging a guerrilla gathering at Piccadilly Circus with a group of brand ambassadors wearing animal heads, rewilding the area and campaigning in support of Humane Society International, by encouraging passers by to sign the organization’s Fur Free Britain petition to end the fur trade in the U.K.

On the other end of the street, Westminster City Council and the Crown Estate are making more long-term plans about how to revive Oxford Circus, which has been particularly hit by the closure of Topshop’s giant flagship — one of London’s biggest tourist attractions.

And yet, London authorities are not giving up and are making ambitious plans to reinvent the area into a public space that will “rival New York’s Times Square.”

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The aim is to create two pedestrian piazzas on either side of the circus and open up new opportunities for “leisure-led” shops and eateries to come in and take retail space.

The council has allocated up to 150 million pounds to revive the shopping thoroughfare with improved public areas, more greenery and an international design competition for best-in-class design talent to deliver the project. The competition, opening later this summer and open to entries from around the world, will be run by the Royal Institute of British architects.

“These new bold plans to reinvent Oxford Circus will see the first significant redesign of the nation’s favorite high street in decades,” said Rachael Robathan, Westminster City council leader. “We hope the creation of these pedestrian-only piazzas at Oxford Circus, surrounded by newly planted trees and large seating areas, will instill much needed confidence in the West End and support local businesses severely affected by the pandemic. We want to bring the excitement and buzz back to these famous streets and make Oxford Circus London’s front door.”

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