by Francesca Perry
Reading the spot-on article by Loretta Lees about the damaging effect of regeneration in London got me thinking. Regeneration has become a dirty word. But good regeneration is not about ‘bringing back to life’ – life is always there – it is about supporting and enabling, making positive change to benefit everyone.
Listen to the community
As a developer, this may not come naturally! Those practitioners involved in change should be aware of multiple narratives and needs and if necessary, bring someone on board who can responsively engage with the community, understanding how they feel and what they want. The local and existing community in a place should be involved at every step of a development or change to help shape it. Crowdsource ideas from the people that know and use the area – they are the experts!
A lot of the time, a place doesn’t need an injection of luxury landscaping to ‘improve’. Look closer and you’ll realise that vital community services – whether it’s running a family centre or maintaining a local park – may be in need of support, time and money. This sort of support is often the section 106 ‘afterthought’ of a pricey development – but developers tend to put money towards their own version of what’s beneficial, rather than the community’s.
It sounds so obvious – but it rarely happens. There are so many excuses for separating social housing from private housing, but there is no excuse for creating a segregated city. Rent and sale prices in London are becoming increasingly exclusive – and ridiculous. We urgently need to decelerate something that is spiralling out of control – as Lees articulates, this property-led regeneration – leading to a city dominated by unaffordable luxury housing.
What’s appalling is that even if social housing is built in the same development as private, often the quality of the buildings is so markedly different as to be offensive. Additionally, developers and local authorities should ensure new housing is not only integrated within itself, but also with the surrounding existing communities and spaces. Create communal spaces for all to use, including community centres, family facilities and open green spaces where collaborative activities like sports and social groups can take place. Nurture place, don’t displace.
Help build pride and community
I’d like to think that community is not, contrary to popular belief, built through ‘place branding’ tactics! Real collaborative and productive local projects can achieve great connections and improvements. From communal gardening and urban agriculture to public art projects and youth initiatives, it is important to help enable people to both get involved and run activities themselves. Public space plays a crucial role in these processes, and really it is accessible public space that needs to be nurtured to achieve inclusive regeneration.
Sometimes additions are needed. By this I don’t necessarily mean another Tesco Metro or a cafe that charges £4 for a coffee. Is it possible to contribute a community space, healthcare facility, or a skills training centre? Respond to existing and very real needs that, if catered for, will greatly improve the wellbeing of the people and their place.
Enhance training and employment opportunities
Ensure existing and any new businesses provide opportunities to local people for apprenticeships, training and employment, working with local schools and colleges to achieve this. Places like Free 2 Learn are crucial too. In London especially, when I talk to young people about what they want to see in their local area, I hear this again and again: more training, more work experience, more jobs.
I want more than anything to believe there is a better way; we can grow and support our city without being exclusionary and divisive. More holistic and sensitive regeneration is the bigger win in the long term. Listen to the multitude of diverse voices: this city belongs to all of us.