You need to walk around the town to appreciate just how much building is going on in Ipswich. Post-industrial big cities like Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham are said to be "re-inventing" themselves for this different era. In a smaller way that also applies to post-industrial towns like Ipswich. The process began here some years ago as insurance replaced manufacturing. Now we have offices instead of maltings, and most recently flats instead of warehouses and gasworks.
Bringing residents back into various parts of the town centre and the Waterfront is surely good in principle and doesn't need to be rehearsed here. But the one element which is relatively neglected is retailing. This is illustrated most obviously by the continuing neglect of the huge Mint Quarter site bounded by Upper Brook Street, Tacket Street, Upper Orwell Street and Carr Street. There are many economic, commercial and legal reasons for this neglect and delay, I'm sure, but the result is a great "hole" in the middle of Ipswich, a town which in other respects is developing fast.
Modern architecture has been a major factor in the successful "re-invention" of many other cities and towns. I haven't been to Birmingham yet to visit the new Selfridges but I already know about it, as I guess many Ipswich Society members do. When in 1909 Selfridges opened in Oxford Street, a famous architect from Chicago (Daniel Burnham) was brought in to design the most striking shop in London at the time. Similarly now in Birmingham where the architects, Future Systems, designers of the elongated oval media box at Lords cricket ground, have created the extraordinary looking five-storey slinky Selfridges. I don't know whether I'll like it, but it's already so famous I do know it's there! That and the whole redeveloped Bull Ring have helped Birmingham to rocket up the retailing success ladder during 2003 (from 13th to 3rd, nationally).
Before you think this is madness, I should say that I realise that Ipswich is much smaller than Birmingham and that we'll never have a Selfridges here! My point is simply to stress the importance of architecture. It's possible that the Mint Quarter will never be developed for major retailing because Ipswich isn't big enough to sustain it, but if you think about the potential of the site there is wonderful scope for architectural statements which would put Ipswich on the map. Whilst I think that new architecture should respect its existing neighbouring buildings, in this case architects would have almost a free hand since there's not much to respect other than the two churches, St Pancras and Christ Church in Tacket Street. Striking looking shops could help to make Ipswich uniquely different from other town centres. Then all these new flat-dwellers would shop here and car owners would be less likely to drive elsewhere. Dream on?