An Introduction to Urban Regeneration

An Introduction to Urban Regeneration

Urban regeneration, which can also be called Urban Renewal, takes place when the physical, social and economic characteristics of run down urban areas have been rebuilt as part of a strategic plan to improve an area. Housing, industrial locations and dock side developments are typical regeneration projects. Urban regeneration typically goes beyond the redevelopment of the physical area of a location and will tackle the social and economic activity there as well. As a consequence urban regeneration projects are radical interventions requiring substantial economic contribution from both the public and private sector.

Urban regeneration in the UK

The impact of urban regeneration in the UK has been visible in a great many areas of the country.  While the typical regeneration project in the past may have focussed on industrial and dockland sites the breadth of urban regeneration in the UK is particularly significant. So, for example, there is regeneration inititaves in less industrial and coastal areas such as Camborne, Pool and Redruth in Cornwall, and in Blackpool and Southend. In the Midlands there is an initiative in West Bromwich, Smethwick and Hill Top. Regeneration projects such as MediaCity:UK, in Salford in Greater Manchester and Olympic Park in East London reflect contemporary issues and priorities.

Elements in Urban Regeneration

If anything has been learned from attempts at urban regenration in the past it is that successful urban regeneration has to take place at many levels. Successful urban regeneration will involve the successful integration of complex  social, economic, planning, construction and management activities.  These elements of urban regeneration are brought together to improve the social sustainability, economic stability and more generally improve the infrastructure of a geographical location and so help improve the sustainability of the urban landscape it occupies. Now, more than ever before the environmental impacts of urban regenration are also being taken into account.

With so many variables its frequently difficult to know from the offset if an initiative has been wholly successful. Clearly, measurables such as properties renovated or visitor numbers do tell part of the story. However, the key factor is long term success and that requires assessment of regeneration projects over 5, 10, 15 and 20 or more years. Where regeneration projects consistently meet their intial acceptable levels of success they may need consistent and sustained support from the public and private sectors over an extended period of time.    

Urban Regenration Gains

It is frequently claimed that UK urban regeneration initiatives have largely improved the quality of life in UK regeneration areas, although urban regeneration is not without its critics. Regenerated town centres frequently close off and make private, streets and public areas that were once public. Perhaps more widespread is the problem that urban regeneration has had significant impact on local communities. Inevitably, urban regenration projects will require the purchase of residential property in run down residential areas with low and very low market values. However, regeneration areas encompassed long-standing communities from lower income groups. Frequently, family housing was replaced by flats and apartments which were priced too highly to be affordable for the people who used to live in these areas. 

There is no doubt that over the past 30 years the nature and construction of urban regeneration projects has reflected wider government policy. However, they also reflect the hopes and aspirations of people who live in run down areas. The high profile construction of innovative but exclusive waterside regeneration developments at London's Canary Wharf or Liverpool's Albert Dock in the 1980s reflected, in part, the hopes and aspirations of the Conservative government at that time. Labour government has learned from early initiatives, leaning towards more partnership approaches to urban regeneration. Modern contemporary urban regeneration has a wider remit, which can include health, education, community integration and regeneration as well as the regeneration of the physical fabric of an area.

Urban Regeneration: Conclusions

There has been a trend towards including agencies outside the local authority in urban regeneration strategies. Experiences of successful regeneration demonstrated that urban regeneration is most effective when it is delivered in partnership with those groups and organisations best placed to influence the success of urban regeneration projects. This means that local authorities deliver urban regeneration in partnerships which can include Central Government, construction companies, other private sector organisations and, perhaps most importantly, local communities.

Consultation with local communities about urban regeneration plans has been recognised as being vital to the success of urban regeneration projects. This is because urban regeneration has direct links to, and affects directly, the communities living in the areas where regeneration is planned. As a consequence community regeneration is an integral part of urban regeneration and it is now hard to imagine the success of any regeneration project involving residential property where the views of local communities were not taken into account. Successful urban regeneration will not only work at the physical level but will result in successful, viable, vibrant and sustainable communities.

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