The future of shopping: London’s first sustainable smart street opens

Just 100 metres from Oxford Street, London’s first smart street is powered by pedestrians and pop ups, Katie Strick reports

The streetlights are powered by your footsteps and the wall paint purifies the air. Welcome to Bird Street, the world’s first sustainable ‘smart street’ in the heart of London’s West End. Located less than 100m from Selfridge’s on Oxford Street, this tech-friendly, traffic-free “oasis” combines next-generation technology from around the globe for a sustainable, innovative shopping experience. Officially launching today [Thurs], it promises to be the future of the high street.

“It’s the perfect example of the future of retail,” says Jace Tyrrell, CEO of the New West End Company, which launched Bird Street. “We have to embrace a very different type of custom from what we had 20 years ago and look towards what’s going to set us up for the next 20 years. So we thought, what can we do with some of our streets to really innovate?”

Nestled in the heart of the West End’s shopping district, Bird Street features a range of pioneering pop-ups, from independent fashion and lifestyle brands to ethical homeware stores. Not only are the shops themselves innovative – using mobile payment apps and incentivised digital selfie mirrors – but so too is the physical street itself. Visitors’ footsteps are used to generate electricity using a technology called Pavegen. When they need to sit down, shoppers can enjoy fresh, filtered air on a bespoke bench designed by CleanAir.

The aim of the initiative, supported by Transport for London’s Future Streets incubator scheme, was to activate an underused space just off the main Oxford Street thoroughfare, explains Tyrrell. “The great thing about Oxford Street is it’s a district, and looking down some of these side streets just opens up these wonderful neighbourhoods. Why wouldn’t we celebrate them?” Many of the north-south side streets were previously empty, “sad” areas, he says. The decision to choose an area adjoining one of Europe’s most polluted streets was also a deliberate one. “The aim is to make it a healthier street,” explains Tyrrell. “We’ve got AirLabs, which suck out pollutants from the air around us. If you sit inside them you get the freshest air you can breathe on Oxford Street.”  

Many of the technologies featured have been piloted elsewhere in the world, but Bird Street is the first to combine the best in one place. “We went around the world looking at where technology is moving both in air quality and in powering and electricity,” explains Tyrrell. “That’s led to a number of brands we’ve got here today. What’s so brilliant about Bird Street is we’ve taken the best bits from other cities and pulled it all together in one street. So we’re really celebrating the best in where technology is heading, and also sustainability. Some of these products are the first on the market here in the UK.” 

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