It may appear impossible to anyone who has visited Scotland's blighted town centres recently but it is a mission he will try his hardest to accomplish when he takes up his new post as chair of the Scottish Government's National Review of Town Centres (NRTC) later this month. If he succeeds, Scotland's towns could return to the bustling places they once were – only with less red tape binding them, fewer cars choking their streets and an annual festival enlivening burghs up and down the land.
Fraser, an award-winning architect based in Edinburgh's Old Town, will begin work with the words of Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, fresh in his ears: "Town centres are vital to the economic and social fabric of Scotland," she said as she launched the NRTC. "We want to take every measure possible to ensure our high streets are vibrant places where local people want to spend their time and money."
Where Fraser is concerned, she is preaching to the converted. Speaking to the Sunday Herald, he suggested that among the recommendations he would like to see put forward are changes to how rates are calculated and VAT applied to business premises – what he calls "the legislative levers" of government – as well as more flexible planning and property rules.
In France, he notes, rateable value is assessed by each shop's turnover whereas in the UK it is calculated on the highest rateable value in the street. "So if some chi-chi shop moves into a street, up goes the rateable value and all the small shops can't afford that and have to move out." He would also like to see pop-up retail units encouraged and a change in the rules governing the leasehold terms for flats situated above shops.
At the other end of the scale, Fraser hopes to find a way to facilitate what he calls "bottom-up cultural renewal". This could, for example, see an estate agent or property developer with a disused church hall on its hands co-operating with a local community to find a sustainable use for the building.
It is a tall order, but Fraser's ambition does not stop there. There is also what he calls "the bigger picture", one that moves beyond the specifics of how to fill the estimated 20,000 commercial properties currently lying empty across Scotland. Here he wants nothing less than for the nation to alter radically the way it views urban life.
"We're at the end of a 60-year period when we believed that the future was about getting in a car, going from a dormitory suburb to a business park, then getting in the car and going to a retail park and then driving home," he says. "We thought that a view of the city as somewhere to talk, meet friends, walk around and then walk home was a nostalgic one. I think we're coming to realise that the future is the other way round – sitting in a car going from dumb box to dumb box not only leaves us feeling disconnected but it's not even the future for business. There's no creative interaction, there's no friendliness, there's no bumping into people in the street and finding that they have an interesting business idea. I feel passionately – and it's a growing realisation – that our traditional communities are the places of the future."
To that end he would like to see pedestrianised streets and integrated transport systems that can deliver people – and, importantly, the things they carry with them such as money, ideas, energy, vigour and talent – into town and city centres to act as both cultural and economic drivers.
Joining Fraser on the review panel are representatives from organisations including the Association of Town Centre Managers, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Stirling University, the Federation of Small Businesses and Ernst & Young. There is also a seat for Andrew Dixon, boss of Creative Scotland, whose outsider's eye has already given Fraser food for thought.
"What really blew his mind about Scotland is that when he counted them up he found there are 280 arts festivals a year," he says. "They go from the Edinburgh Festival, the world's biggest, to tiny ones like the Wigtown Book Festival. Each of these ticks every box possible – it represents money coming into the community, jobs, rent for venues, a sense of belonging, pride in a community and tourism. If there are already 280 they must be doing some good – but there can be some more."
Fraser points to the main towns on Islay as ones which made the most of their local resources, whether it is the abundant bird life which draws twitchers from all over the UK, the island's whisky distilleries, or the annual jazz festival. Peebles is another town which he thinks has a good mix of retail outlets and a relatively vibrant community and, in Alloa, he sees a town benefiting from the re-opening of the railway line linking it with Stirling, Scotland's ancient capital.
However, he is unwilling to list the problem towns and thinks that dubious accolades such as the Carbuncle Award, given annually to Scotland's "worst" town, are not necessarily helpful. Besides, he adds, "there are places that have been given a hard time which when you go to see them are really wonderful places.
"I was in Cumbernauld, which has won all sorts of terrible awards, and I thought 'What a great place this is'. It's got Gregory's Girl, it's got some of the best 1960s buildings in Scotland, it has an enormous amount to celebrate. And after all the demonising it has had, it is starting to fight back."
In Bill Forsyth's film, Gregory's girl-hungry friends Andy and Charlie have several thousand miles to travel as they attempt to flee Cumbernauld for the sexual utopia that is Caracas. As he seeks to breathe life into Scotland's ailing town centres, Fraser can be certain that, while his task is markedly less futile, it may prove equally challenging.