Last night, I watched a film I’ve already seen numerous times – Top Gun (1986), directed by Tony Scott and starring a young Tom Cruise in a classic film that had everything that defined my younger years – the Cold War, cool aeroplanes, and some decent tunes. The difference being, that I watched it on an extravagantly huge screen, surrounded by the wonderful environment of Central Park, and several hundred other people, in a relaxing and communal experience on what will probably one of this Summer’s last pleasant evenings. OK, so the film is quite familiar to those of us over 30, and I (and most other people) got bitten by insects and tolerated other people’s chatter during the film, but that’s not the point.
The point is, that along with the Trevithick fair and the Dartford Festival (plus numerous smaller events), Dartford Borough Council are realising the relative ease and practicality of making Central Park work much harder, and deliver inclusive, community-wide benefits. That’s not to say that a large number of people at Civic Centre didn’t have to work ridiculously hard and have a few sleepness nights over this – they almost certainly did. But now it has been achieved, it has raised hopes that events such as these can be staged throughout next Summer and beyond.
Obviously there’s financial parameters to factor in – giant cinema screens don’t pay for themselves, and none of the audience paid a penny for the privilege. Depending on your point of view, it was either a pre-election sweetener from the Council, or a fair return on some of the tax we pump in every month. Regardless of the initiative, it highlighted two key things for me: Firstly, that a huge and diverse body of people can be encouraged to use the town centre with straightforward ideas that trump some of the lateral thinking from the Portas scheme (sorry, Peppa!). Secondly, that the town centre in the 21st century need not be defined by any size of shop – be it an Edwardian butcher or a sprawling, grotesque hypermarket. The town has natural and man-made features that do a far better job of seeding a cultured community of people than an retail space dependent on cash transactions.
Given that discretionary spending will always now gravitate to Bluewater, Dartford town centre will be overlooked by the economic recovery (should it ever come). With careful management, and the involvement of key stakeholders, the town centre however could be a prime candidate for genuine cultural regeneration in the next decade or so. Occasions like last night take a small, but positive step towards that.