Resilience is the new regeneration

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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Toby Blume
Chief Executive
Urban Forum






4 thoughts on “Resilience is the new regeneration

  1. I – for my sins – have been involved in urban regeneration for quite some time, admittedly in the development of town centre shopping complexes so probably not as earthy as you and Neil M.I did develop a passion for locality though – one that is driving my business desires nowadays.The only think that I’d say about regeneration, is that the focus needs to shift from place to people. Obviously the two are inter-connected, but to my mind the investment needed should go into making people resilient rather than the place.Put simply, people need to know what ‘good’ looks like. And the current incentives system (which rewards mindless consumerism and self-centred actions) doesn’t produce outcomes that are beneficial to the economy, the environment or the community.Time for a incentives system that rewards/motivates mindful consumerism and responsible behaviour.Not as far fetched as it may seem in this world of alternative and complementary currencies.Keep up the good work Toby.

  2. <html xmlns:v="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" xmlns:o="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" xmlns:w="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word" xmlns:st1="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" xmlns=""&gt; <head> <META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Type" CONTENT="text/html; charset=us-ascii"> <meta name=Generator content="Microsoft Word 11 (filtered medium)"> <!–[if !mso]> <style> v:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} o:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} w:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} .shape {behavior:url(#default#VML);} </style> <![endif]–><o:SmartTagType namespaceuri="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" name="place"/> <o:SmartTagType namespaceuri="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" name="PersonName"/> <!–[if !mso]> <style> st1:*{behavior:url(#default#ieooui) } </style> <![endif]–> <style> <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face
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  3. At the risk of getting into a semantic debate, I think it’s important to be clear that regeneration and resilience are not the same thing, though they should be complementary.A place that is resilient doesn’t necessarily need regeneration – it has the networks, assets and skills in place to survive shocks and adapt to change. Regeneration, on the other hand, is a process of bringing back to life places that have been failed by the markets and by public policy. And my view is that such a process has to begin with the people who live there, because they are the ones who have a long term stake, but may also require outside intervention and investment because of the damage caused by economic and social events and policy.The Scottish Government’s definition is a useful starting point: ‘regeneration is the holistic process of reversing the economic, social and physical decline of places where market forces alone will not suffice’. I’ve said a bit more about this in my <a href=’’>evidence to the select committee</a> and my series last year for New Start, which i think is still relevant (first article <a href=’’>available here</a>)

  4. thanks all.@Nicky – the Young Foundation’s WARM framework is itneresting, as is the work that CLES have done (which we’re now working with them to adapt to give it a community-action focus)….@Mike – we do need (as Julian has also mentioned in the past) to recognise the centrality of people in regen (or resilience). Like you, i’m also very interested in the effect of incentives (to encourage action. But there’s also evidence – eg Dan Ariely – to suggest extrinsic incentives can create disincentives. it’s complex, but we need to understand it better.@Julian – i think we probably agree on pretty much everything, with the possible exception of the semantics here! i’m more and more coming to the view that regeneration comes with so much baggage that we’re better off focussing on ways to achieve the best intentions of regen (and learning from previous efforts) under a different label. i think that’s the only point i may disagree with you on..but it’s about approach and strategy, not aims and intentions! cheers

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