I’m off to the Regeneration Summit today, as I have done pretty much every year since I’ve been at Urban Forum. It will be interesting though to see how different the mood is given how much has changed over the last twelve months. For the last generation (if not more) regeneration has been dominated by government sponsored programmes. That money is no longer on the table and there is no immediate prospect of it returning. So what then is the future of regeneration?
This is a question that has been the subject of a fair amount of debate over the last couple of years (as spending cuts loomed, even before the election) and is the subject of an ongoing Select Committee Inquiry. The government’s approach appears to assume that by creating the right levers and opportunities (such as the New Homes Bonus, Community Infrastructure Levy and neighbourhood plans) there will be sufficient incentives for the private sector to deliver regeneration and development. I remain unconvinced of this, particularly with the ongoing contraction of credit supply and ongoing Eurozone crisis.
In any event, I have never been particularly enamoured with the term regeneration. For me it invokes immediate associations with gentrification and a ‘done to’ communities approach – employing a deficit model of ‘problem area in need of remedial attention’. That is not to say that all regeneration programmes have been bad – far from it. The Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy and associated Community Empowerment Fund and New Deal for Communities programme delivered real benefits for deprived communities….at least until New Labour got bored with the experiment and began to siphon off the cash. However I’m not convinced that they have consistently delivered value for poor communities or tended to offer viable long term solutions for economic and social development.
We at Urban Forum are increasingly focussing on the idea of resilience – aided in part by the excellent work of our partners at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. Resilience suggests associations with strength and survival – but not just surviving…for me resilience means the strength to withstand shocks and bounce back from external pressures and buffeting (the ‘boingability’ that Neil McInroy talks about). It can accommodate physical development and building things, but also encompasses the idea of communities taking control of the means of production – a simultaneously Marxist sentiment and one advocated by the Conservative-led government. It means local energy production, community finance, co-operatives, food growing schemes and building on the substantial skills, enthusiasm, assets and creativity that sits unused within all communities.
I will not mourn the loss of regeneration – if indeed we are witnessing the final rites of top-down regeneration. Instead I will celebrate the arrival of a new era of resilience that offer lasting benefits and sustainable livelihoods for deprived communities.
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