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Urbanisation

The regeneration conundrum: Urban renewal without gentrification

What does inclusive regeneration look like? How can local communities be empowered to lead on the renewal of their home neighbourhoods? And what are the giveaway signs that regeneration has mutated into gentrification? Here are the key points from our recent webinar.

World Built Environment Forum
7 October 2020

We don’t yet have a settled understanding of what gentrification is

For something so hotly discussed, gentrification is a somewhat slippery concept. First coined by sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964, the term’s exact meaning is still contested. While one might confidently intuit that gentrification is underway in a given neighbourhood, the hard metrics are slightly harder to pin down.

“Traditionally, the focus has been on property values – particularly as relative to incomes,” says Ciaran Gunne-Jones, Senior Director and Head of Economics at London-based planning consultancy Lichfields. “The general sense is of people getting priced out of areas as urban change takes place. But, of course, property values are just one measure; they can be quite simplistic, and they’re influenced by other factors. Over time, the metrics have broadened out. Today, we look at deprivation, quality of housing and education, access to services and, pertinently, health and care issues. These give a much better sense of the ways in which a particular area’s economic and social dimensions might be changing.”

In recent years, policymakers and developers have become better at recognising the social complexity of urban regeneration schemes

Regeneration was originally conceived as a means of reinvigorating and repurposing inner-city districts hollowed out by the deindustrialisation. As such, it was embraced as an uncomplicated “good idea”, with the potential for social damage and exclusion scarcely considered. As urbanisation continued at pace over the course of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the importance of getting the regeneration process right has only been heightened. Happily, policymakers and developers have seemingly grasped the nettle.

The regeneration conundrum: Urban renewal without gentrification

Urban renewal was originally conceived as a means reinvigorating inner city districts hollowed out by the deindustrialisation of the late 20th century. While investment in troubled neighbourhoods may appear to be an uncomplicated “good idea”, very often such schemes result in the displacement of the communities they were intended to help. What does inclusive regeneration look like? How can local communities be empowered to lead on the renewal of their home neighbourhoods? And what are the giveaway signs that regeneration has mutated into gentrification?

“In the Netherlands, we have a 30% social housing requirement: you cannot build a new residential building without creating social housing,” says Minouche Besters, author and Partner at urban development specialists Stipo. “In that sense, you ensure from the beginning that you’re creating housing for everyone. And it’s important that it’s not only property developers that develop properties. Let social co-operatives and local communities do some development. That way, you create a more level playing field, you make sure that there are multiple viewpoints considered when developing housing. Community developers will look at thing differently from commercial developers.”

“Many of the developers that I work with do regard themselves as having a long-term role in the communities where they operate,” adds Gunne-Jones.  “They are conscious of the dividend that they should be providing to those communities.”

Regeneration is a bottom-up endeavour

With every building that we design, we can improve the situation for local people. It’s very important that everyone of us claims this right for our communities.

Bahanur Nasya
Project Manager, PlaceCity

“The most important aspect in how we create places is that we involve diverse actors,” says architect and filmmaker, Bahanur Nasya. “Gentrification as a term is perceived negatively, so instead we say community-led development. But when we have a lot of high rises and traffic build up, without space for communities, are those developments really bettering the place? With every building, every corner, every shop that we design, we can improve the situation for local people. It’s very important that everyone of us claims this right for our communities and it’s important that developers grant this right to communities.”