Regeneration - which way now?


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This is the first of a series of twelve articles by Julian Dobson ( in New Start magazine on the future of regeneration in the UK. It argues that we need to radically rethink the way we understand and implement regeneration if we are to create places and communities that work and give meaning to our lives. For related material and further articles in the series visit

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Regeneration - which way now?

  1. 1. IN DEPTH In future regeneration must offer a convincing account of place and society and connect with what people care about most. In the first of a 12-part series, Julian Dobson argues that we need to bring regeneration home Fans of the cult TV show Dr Who get it. Ever since the 1960s, NITIES NewStart MU RATION | ECONOM IC DEVELO PMENT | SUSTAIN ABLE COM followers of the charming Time Lord have known the Doctor REGENE JANUARY 2010 will be back. He’ll regenerate. WWW.NEWST ARTMAG .CO.UK For the destroyer of Daleks, regeneration is second ROAD THE SAMETO THE WILL LEAD ONS... nature. Whatever his opponents throw at him, he’ll be down TINATI SAME DES but not out. He won’t necessarily look the same, sound the same, wear the same outfits or try not to flirt with the same MAP A ...HELP US A FOR companion – but the stuff that makes him the Doctor will NEW AGEND ION REGENERAT be constant. Gardeners understand it too. The seed may look very SHOW ME Y volution different to the plant, but it contains within it all the THE MONE One man re t advice on New Exper funding nt how to get birth of a moveme kins on the Transition Tow ns guru Rob Hop genetic material the plant needs. There’s a continuity and an identity that links it to the past and binds it to the future. It regenerates. Regeneration that works – the real thing – couples the concepts of continuity and rebirth. A regenerated place is the same, but different: reinvigorated and better equipped for the circumstances that lie ahead, but with a sense of In pursuit of the identity that roots it in the past and in networks of people, and connects it to the future and the people that have a spatial and local impact. Home is more than all of these: it is what connects place with people. we will become. It’s a continuous process of survival and There is a rich academic literature about home, but strengthening. regeneration practice tends to pay scant regard to it. But words like regeneration and transformation Academics talk of place attachment and place identity; as have been devalued and debased by years of misuse and the environmental psychologist Maria Vittoria Giuliani puts definitions that tie them to the vagaries of policymakers it, ‘not only do we acknowledge the existence of an affective rather than the life of communities. Every pedestrianised bond with places, but also the importance that this can have shopping centre is branded a transformation, every set in qualifying our existence, whether positively or negatively. of uPVC windows a regenerated estate. Local identity is And not just our individual, private, existence, but also the diminished: according to the New Economics Foundation, existence of entire human groups’. two fifths of our towns are ‘clone towns’. Regeneration risks Home is an obviously physical concept. It’s bricks, becoming yesterday’s buzzword, discarded through over-use. mortar, furnishings and decoration. It’s our neighbourhood, It’s time to reclaim regeneration for the places and town or city. When the energy company E-on decided to communities that need it. Over the coming year, we’ll knock down the Tinsley cooling towers in Sheffield in 2008, explain how, where and why that needs to happen, and one of the strongest protests from local people was that show examples of real regeneration in action. But the when they saw the twin towers from the motorway or the circumstances will be more testing in the next decade than train, they knew they were nearly home. Home can refer in the last one, so we need an approach that can carry us too to familiar or treasured landscapes on a wider scale through those challenges and beyond. – London, Yorkshire, Wales, or Africa. It’s difficult to imagine Above: the public home without a spatial context. feeling inspired by WHERE THE HEART IS But home is an intensely social idea too. What makes Antony Gormley’s Throughout this series we’ll use the idea of home to explain a house home is the fact that we live there, and generally installation Another how we think regeneration needs to be grounded in our with people we want to live with. What makes locality Place has secured the communities. Governments and local authorities tend home is the everyday social exchange of people: we artwork a permanent to talk not of home but of place, using concepts such as recognise faces, learn names, start to appreciate what’s place on Crosby beach localism, placemaking and place-shaping to describe actions important or interesting to others. We might even join 18 | New Start | January 2010
  2. 2. IN DEPTHL We asked people on Twitter their hopes for regeneration for the coming decade. Here are a few of their responses... Susie Hay: I long for with economic and people to take action environmental change. without waiting for the ‘f’ word (funding) that Chris Doyle: Ubiquitous gets all off the hook. No broadband for all in digital funding equals freedom. Britain, bringing the UK into the global digital Yaser Mir: Include marketplace. high quality design, sustainability , equality Kelvin Owers: Tax breaks and diversity – consider on saving existing how all communities can buildings, and repurposing live side by side. them. Less focus on building new. Toby Blume: Stop regarding regeneration Simon Cooke: Confidence, as something that can be motivation, initiative, done without tackling enterprise and community, underlying causes of not consultants and poverty and inequality. architects. real thing Rob Greenland: A smaller Dan Thompson: Small, State gets out the way locally distinct, community and communities take the led ‘acupuncture’. lead more. State works out ways to support people to Crispin Moor: People do things themselves. and enterprise focus. Accountable and in with some of it. You can live alone and still use home Colin Buchanan (planning performance managed. socially – but where that interaction is missing or lost consultants): Increase Rural as much as urban. individual wellbeing tends to suffer. the price of all modes of Less obsession with maps Home is an economic construct, too. It’s where we spend transport to encourage and boundaries and much of our money, and sometimes where we earn it. At city centre living, mixed buildings. best, it’s an investment in ourselves and those close to us. use development and It supports local businesses and provides local work. But at sustainable travel. Gary Kirk, Meden worst, it becomes for the well-off an obsession with cash Valley Making Places: values and a stepping stone to individual advancement Nick Poole: Reconnect to Tackle energy efficiency that offers nothing to the surrounding community; and for simple everyday values, in properties, and a many of the poorest, something that traps them in a place abandon the centrist state programme to address they hate, stymies opportunities and limits life chances. and let people regain poor quality housing and But even in the most economically difficult their dignity through open spaces. circumstances or for the most mobile people, home has mutualisation. huge cultural significance. Our attachment to unpromising James Kennell: More plots of land can be remarkably fierce. Our investment Elizabeth Varley: Greatest ideological conviction in our homes and localities is not just an investment of hope for regeneration is to make up for fewer cash but of cultural capital and creativity. Planners and that all business becomes economic incentives! developers ignore that at their peril. ‘social’ business – that That attachment, though, can be strained. The most enterprise always means Giles Simon, Co-operatives recent DCLG Place Survey found that although 80% of good for community as UK: Communities people in England were satisfied with their area as a place well. investing in and taking to live, only 59% felt they belonged to their neighbourhood over shops, pubs, local and a paltry 29% felt they could influence decisions in Neil McInroy: Regeneration businesses, community their area. And as the Young Foundation pointed out in its becomes proactive rather buildings, local services recent study, Sinking & Swimming, people have become than reactive in dealing and housing. M significantly less happy. In 1991 seven million prescriptions New Start | January 2010 | 19
  3. 3. IN DEPTH In some places regeneration is a dirty word. This poem by Manchester performance Concrete boulders Regeneration A yellow workman’s hat Diggers dig and cranes roar The golden sun glistened above the dilapidated ruins that were once In an attempt to bring the community to the floor humans’ homes Brick by brick and stone by stone Shadows grow as the fiery planet slowly climbs Pull old buildings down To the top of the world Build new homes Radiating a spot Where Mr Rolls lived This is how regeneration begins Cries of children’s laughter People lose Echo around the building site Contractors win Entrancing the wolf that whistles bares its bum The chaotic destruction of whole communities But rarely bites All in line with Government policy Architecturally brainwashing A white cooker stands high and alone Generation after generation On a drumlin of sand soil and societal sediment Once the fabric of people’s lives Barbed wire fences and floating dust Large cranes and plant covered in rust Green curtains are half drawn in the glassless window of a second Builders and joiners from out of town floor flat Tear our houses shops and boozers down And above But order must be carried out to the letter The chaos of twisted steel Please the bosses and make things better Jagged slabs M were issued for anti-depressant drugs; by 2007 that figure scale is homecoming and home-making. It is not the had risen to 34 million. delivery of projects or the development of buildings but the One of the failures of much self-styled regeneration is creation of meaning. that it not only neglects to create attachment, but actively undermines it, moving people when they don’t want to TEN YEARS FROM NOW, WILL WE NEED REGENERATION? be moved, assuming that what’s glossy and sanitised is by More than a century ago in News from Nowhere, William definition better than the dog-eared and disorderly. It’s an Morris imagined a utopian Britain run on cooperative, error of judgement that’s repeated ad nauseam as planners agrarian principles. He was a dreamer. His ideas were and funders seek quick returns on their investment. And it ridiculed in favour of pushing forward the economic model turns regeneration into a hate-word (see above). that gave us the Great Depression and Beveridge’s Five Home, then, with its negative connotations as well Giants of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. as positive, must be at the heart of any understanding of A decade ago Tony Blair imagined a Britain where regeneration. What regenerates a place or community – nobody would be seriously disadvantaged by where they the genetic material that makes it itself and not something lived (see New Start, December 2009). Despite being a more else – is also what creates home. Regeneration at every achievable ambition, we’re no nearer it than we are to 20 | New Start | January 2010
  4. 4. IN DEPTHL poet Mike Garry and pictures by Ciara Leeming help to explain why And when they have finished their rebuilding Ex-homeless people begin to move in They’re impressed for a month or two Then realise that the plastic glue hardboard and Formica That holds this fragile box together Is just like Princess who scissored the ribbon On the outside pristine And on the inside a midden First they find large black cockroaches Second big black rats These house are built on flats That were built on top of houses That were built on a bog Soon the houses begin to bend and bob from side to side Cracks appear and whole streets slide Then a rat like councillor decides This crime ridden area of dilapidation is in serious need of regeneration ‘Let’s build things up and make things fine With a grant from sexy Heseltine’ £500 million already spent And £44.90 collected in rent Rebuilding doesn’t make problems go away It just creates new dumping grounds For the poor the black the Irish and the gay. These people who redesign our lives Live a million miles away with their wives Mike Garry can be contacted at To And kids who play on vast green lawns hear Mike reading this and other poems, visit his website at www. Surrounded by blooming flower beds But would swap it all for a Sunday with Dad Photos: Ciara Leeming They are far away from floating dust speeding cars that maim and kill Ciara Leeming’s pictures of housing regeneration projects in A different kind of hurt northern England can be viewed at http://www.socialdocumentary. A different kind of pollutionville net/exhibit/ciara_leeming/691 or at Morris’s idyll. As the Young Foundation has demonstrated, Seen from the ground, these policies attract an abiding even what progress we have seen has been offset by greater critique: they are not given time to work, they are riddled unhappiness as well as material inequality. with arcane funding rules, and they turn the idea of What’s clear from all the evidence is that the problems building skills and capacity from a process of nurturing into facing our communities and society are more intractable yet more paperwork. And however benevolent the ministers than most politicians and policymakers imagined. and civil servants, the perceived need to demonstrate that Even when we have continuity of government, there’s government action is getting results makes it harder to learn a discontinuity of policy. The Conservative governments lessons, while in their eagerness to tick all the required of the 1980s and 1990s gave us urban development boxes local officials stifle initiative and invention. corporations, City Challenge, and eventually the single A report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by Oxford regeneration budget. New Labour accelerated the policy University researchers published in 2008 had the telling merry-go-round with the new deal for communities, subtitle, ‘Not knowing what works’. As the introduction neighbourhood renewal fund, sustainable communities pointed out: plan, sub-national review of economic development and ‘Since 1997, the government has implemented a raft M regeneration, and much, much more. of person- and place-based policies to tackle disadvantage. New Start | January 2010 | 21
  5. 5. M IN DEPTH For the most part, these policies (person and place) have developed separately within their specific domains... However, this separation does not reflect a reality in which poverty and disadvantage are mediated by place, and places are affected by the poverty or otherwise of their inhabitants.’ Even if we could get the policy mix and implementation right, there are compelling reasons why regeneration will be a continuing need. Think for a moment about the definition drawn up by civil servants in the regeneration framework document, Transforming places, changing lives (see panel, below): ‘The government’s view is that regeneration is a set of activities that reverse economic, social and physical decline in areas where market forces will not do this without support from government.’ The history of the last half century shows us that economic, social and physical decline have gone hand in hand with rising affluence. The economist Joseph Schumpeter expressed this as ‘creative destruction’: to make way for the new, the old must be demolished. But what in economic and market terms is considered a good – innovation and new products – brings social ills in terms of skills becoming redundant, places losing their economic raison d’etre and the personal costs of stress and unemployment. One of the greatest policy failures of the last decade, arguably, has been the unwillingness to recognise that the ‘One of the greatest policy failures of the last decade, market forces that create prosperity and opportunity are the very same forces that bring decline and deprivation. arguably, has been the unwillingness to recognise that the They create losers as well as winners, as surely as Strictly market forces that create prosperity and opportunity are Come Dancing or X Factor. A 40-year analysis for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2007 found that spatial inequality the very same forces that bring decline and deprivation.’ had worsened, with cities becoming more polarised between rich and poor. The losers tend to be the same kind lasted three years. We applaud the winners, but who counts of people in the same places. the cost to the losers? Figures for business start-ups help to illustrate the The problem is that poverty of place becomes a self- problem. Even in the prosperous years between 1995 and fulfilling prophecy: the places with the worst conditions are 2004, more than one third of firms failed to survive the first poorest, and because of their conditions, the ambitious leave three years, and survival rates were lower in poorer areas. and those with resources to invest stay away. As the 2009 Only 57% of new businesses registered in Wolverhampton government strategy document, World class places, puts it: It’s the way you tell ’em... Regeneration Renaissance Here are some of the THE DEFINITION: ‘The government’s view is THE DEFINITION: ‘Achieving an urban that regeneration is a set of activities that renaissance is… about creating the quality key terms used to reverse economic, social and physical decline of life and vitality that makes urban living in areas where market forces will not do this desirable… We must bring about a change in describe regeneration without support from government.’ urban attitudes so that towns and cities once Transforming places, changing lives again become attractive places in which to and related activities (DCLG, 2008) live, work and socialise.’ in the last decade, PROS: Recognises regeneration as a complex concept – it covers a range of activities and Towards an Urban Renaissance, introduction by Lord Rogers, 1999 along with some of interlocking problems. CONS: Assumes regeneration is needed PROS: Links place and people – it focuses on creating places where people enjoy living. the definitions offered because of ‘market failure’, which is a Encompasses culture and quality of life. late stage for effective intervention. CONS: A view of urban renaissance that and a quick critique of Responsibility is placed firmly with ignores poverty and inequality risks being government. A top-down, economically reduced to café culture for the middle their pros and cons... biased interpretation. classes. 22 | New Start | January 2010
  6. 6. IN DEPTHL showed four million children living in poverty after housing costs are taken into account. For working age adults it was seven-and-a-half million, and for pensioners two million. Those are just the bald figures. As the department stated in evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee: ‘The impact of poverty on children goes well beyond material disadvantage... Children who experience poverty are more likely to have low self-esteem and lower expectations for their future. They are more likely to be poor themselves and there is a strong association between parental earnings and the earnings of their children when they enter work.’ But despite a wealth of analysis and initiatives, we seem stuck with the same problems. In 1998 the Social Exclusion Unit’s report, Bringing Britain together, offered this critique of previous initiatives: ‘None really succeeded in setting in motion a virtuous circle of regeneration, with improvements in jobs, crime, education, health and housing all reinforcing each other.’ Ten years on, the 2008 Monitoring poverty and social exclusion report concluded that the comprehensive vision of the Blair government had been lost in favour of a crude focus on worklessness: ‘Ten years ago, the challenge was to get child poverty reduction added to the government’s agenda. Ten years Poverty isn’t just about ‘Poverty in this country is not just about poor education, on, the challenge is to prevent it dominating the social a lack of jobs, education unemployment or low wages, and lack of opportunity. It is policy agenda to the exclusion of virtually all else….. the or wealth, it’s about typically associated with poor housing and poverty of place answer is nowhere near as simple as “work is the route unsafe and bad housing – badly designed estates or low quality neighbourhoods, out of poverty”.’ design and low quality with dysfunctionally designed, energy inefficient homes, Does this mean, though, that we’re stuck in a neighbourhoods unsafe passage-ways and poor public spaces.’ continuous loop of improvement and decline, boom In such a context, regeneration has to be a sine qua non and bust, with regeneration acting as little more than for a stable and cohesive society. Without constant action to a government-dispensed palliative? That would be a reinvigorate neighbourhoods and towns that are distressed, dispiriting case for regeneration indeed. and to generate new opportunities for people whose potential has been frustrated, we face ever more severe TOWARDS CITIZEN-LED REGENERATION social consequences. There is an alternative approach that takes us towards a And those consequences are already severe enough. new, positive way of thinking about regeneration without M Department for Work and Pensions figures for 2007/08 glossing over the difficulties or resorting to utopian Sustainable communities Placeshaping Localism THE DEFINITION: ‘Places where people want THE DEFINITION: ‘The creative use of THE DEFINITION: ‘We need to devolve down to live and work, now and in the future; that [local authorities’] powers and influence decision-making to the lowest sensible meet the diverse needs of existing and future to promote the general wellbeing of a level… clear accountability, efficiency and residents, are sensitive to their environment community and its citizens.’ engagement are much more likely to be and contribute to a high quality of life. They Lyons Inquiry, 2007 achieved when this is the case.’ are safe and inclusive, well planned, built and PROS: Recognises the importance of local New Local Government Network, 2005 run, and offer equality of opportunity and government as a champion for places and PROS: Associated with the devolution of good services for all.’ citizens. Strong emphasis on creating local decision-making and a transfer of power Homes and Communities Agency identity and community cohesion and from central government. Links strongly with PROS: Condenses the comprehensive eight-point representation. ideas of neighbourhood renewal and civic approach to sustainable communities set out in CONS: Inward-focused and sets community identity. the Egan Review of 2004. Recognises the need and citizen activity firmly in the context CONS: Still associated with local government for a holistic approach that benefits everyone. of local authorities’ role – the approach rather than citizens. You can have local CONS: Risks being confused with the specific is somewhat paternalistic. It is also easily decision-making without tackling poverty agenda of environmental sustainability, which confused with placemaking, a concept much and disadvantage. The risk is that localism is one part of the matrix. closer to the Egan vision. becomes a euphemism for laissez-faire. New Start | January 2010 | 23
  7. 7. IN DEPTH Urban regeneration needs a new narrative, says David Barrie The last 20 and the private and rolling out local councillors and planning in the book: the taxpayer and the years has statism as innovation. officers. consumer. delivered some Then there’s the crew wielding Small projects are back in But the new element is the remarkable luxury Mont Blancs: lawyers and vogue, rather than physical collective. The new vehicle: the urban accountants reframing the idea projects so big that they make non-profit. The new hero: the regeneration of value-uplift and calling it a TIF, the earth tilt. social entrepreneur. schemes in or politicians like David Cameron And new, non-aligned The politicians suggest we the UK – from Tate Modern to or Tessa Jowell heralding a new organisations or aggregated civic are at the dawn of the ‘social new waterfronts in Newcastle- age of ‘localism’ or ‘mutualism’ organisations at the most local economy’. However, only one or Gateshead and Liverpool, from – but not giving us much of a clue level are about to become flavour two investors in regeneration see the occupational transformation on cast or story. of the month, so long as they value in life-cycle costs, mutualism of Shoreditch to the Scandi-style What seems clear is that offer a genuine bridge between or assets other than land. minimalist repaving of most city economic change will be citizens and state, engender Some time soon a bright centres. less reliant upon property trust, express identity and spark is going to come up with a But the debt-fuelled boom developers, unless they are promote the welfare of the larger marketable link between carbon is over: bank lending is tighter, prepared to innovate by shifting community. credits and the financing of urban housebuilders daren’t start to sustainable development or Who are the poster boys and renewal. on site, the mathematical become increasingly transparent girls of this new world? In the meantime, everyone foundations of ‘value uplift’ have and flexible. Local development There’s the army of activists talks of ‘paradigm shift’ and only been wrecked by low land values will become more answerable to who lead their communities a few engage with what’s likely and the number of people in ‘the people’ and we’ll see less of but believe in collaboration, the to become the new key theme of poverty has increased, when the a ‘massive-shopping-centre-with- welfare of the larger community regeneration: equity. very purpose of regeneration is a-town-attached’ approach to and power of collective to help poor people become more urbanism. bargaining. David Barrie is principal prosperous. The industry will now push Then there are the people consultant at David Barrie Urban regeneration needs a for ‘value’ to be assessed on a who understand that enterprise & Associates and specialises new narrative. What might it be? broader basket of assets and in all of its many forms – social, in regeneration, community There are those with heavy currencies, over and above rental as well as commercial – is a key involvement and the design pens, pumping millions of pounds income. route to progress. and delivery of public projects. into the system, redrafting the More time, attention and At the centre of this narrative David blogs at http://davidbarrie. interdependency of the public pride is about to be invested in are two of the oldest characters M fantasies. It is to see regeneration in terms of re-creation So here’s a working definition of regeneration to play rather than just as a response to failure. with: Regeneration is the action of citizens and those who Reinvention of place is needed because of time and work with them to recreate home for new times, especially change: our preferences change, technologies shift, we where there is poverty or disadvantage. discover new ways of doing and being. Regeneration is See if you can think of a better way of putting it, required most in places that struggle to cope with time and and please contribute your suggestions and join our change, but even those that aren’t struggling sometimes conversation (see panel). Over the rest of this year we’ll need to repurpose. It’s about rethinking place and explore further how this idea of regeneration can be fleshed community for each new generation. out and embedded in the way we think about the future. So regeneration needs to start with the people who live The next article will examine what values should attach in and use a place. Regeneration that works, that creates themselves to citizen-led regeneration, and how we should home, begins with citizens defining their hopes and rethink the idea of value to produce better decision-making. problems, not with programmes and budgets. A citizen is an individual who has rights and a stake in JOIN THE CONVERSATION the place where she or he lives, but that stake is a social one Here are three ways you can join in our debate about the future of regeneration: – citizens can only exercise their citizenship by engaging with other people. And just as citizens are anchored in Write a response: our feedback section (see pages 26 to 31) is a forum for your community, so they are anchored in the places where they views – or if you’d like to make a more substantial contribution relating to this seek to create home. series, contact Julian Dobson at The future for regeneration policies, at all spatial levels, Engage with us online: talk to @NewStartMag or @juliandobson on Twitter, must lie in the action and assent of engaged citizens. blog your thoughts at, or comment on other This is a seismic shift from regeneration that originates readers’ blogs in the legislative process, or is led by masterplanners and Co-host an event: if you’d like to partner us in taking this conversation forward developers. Policymakers, masterplanners and developers at a face-to-face event, or would like us to speak or facilitate a discussion at an must become the servants of alert, engaged and creative event you’re putting on, please get in touch – email citizens making up their own minds about their homes. 24 | New Start | January 2010
  8. 8. Cardiff International Arena | Cardiff, Wales | 1–2 February 2010 | No More Business as Usual With the UK still in recession, the Social Caroline Mason, Director, Enterprise Coalition believes it is time for Investing for Good CIC social enterprises to come together at Claire Dove, Chair, Voice10 to challenge the ‘usual’ approach Social Enterprise Coalition to business. Mikel Lezamiz, Director, Mondragon Corporacion Cooperative, Spain Voice10 will be your chance to hear from a range of exciting speakers including: For more information about Voice10 and to book your place visit Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise Coalition Phillip Blond, Director, ResPublica Ed Mayo, Chief Executive, Co-operatives UK Nigel Annett, Managing Director, Welsh Water Principal sponsor Sponsored by In association with New Start | January 2010 | 25