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The UK historic city of Durham is considered by policymakers to be the ‘jewel in the crown’ in terms of economic potential for a county that has struggled to find a niche role following the collapse of coalmining. Perceived through the eyes of a local practitioner, this paper takes a look at how a networked ensemble of actors are responding to the economic recession and planning for the upturn. The paper examines the role of place quality improvements administered through the delivery of a city masterplan to stitch together the historic city fabric with a contemporary urban aesthetic. Through the case of the (incremental) renaissance of Durham city, it is suggested that a sensitive multilayered development approach underpinned by deliberative democracy is required that responds to the needs of everyday users and local inhabitants.