We need to talk about urban regeneration

Successful regeneration projects need to ensure affordability, access to facilities and involve local communities and residents, said participants at a recent Guardian roundtable

East london’s hackney wick
East London’s Hackney Wick / © Alamy Stock Photo

Any attempt to change the urban landscape is a messy, complex process. Deliberate efforts to revitalise districts in decline or disrepair have often been met with suspicion, cynicism, and in some cases even outright hostility.

But if regeneration has become a loaded, contested term, the transformation of towns and cities remains an endlessly compelling idea. Big renewal projects hold out the promise of making rundown neighbourhoods attractive and vibrant again, and offer up the chance to find new purposes for underused or neglected spaces.

Manchester, for example, boasts a city centre almost unrecognisable from its drab incarnation of the early 1980s – a renaissance made possible by rejuvenating old industrial buildings, as well as attracting the investment to create new commercial and cultural landmarks.

So what makes for a successful regeneration project? How should such interventions be pursued and managed, ideally? The Guardian, supported by Lendlease, recently hosted a roundtable discussion of business leaders and experts to consider how current and future schemes might succeed.

Everyone on the panel agreed that regeneration takes time – usually a great deal of it. And most agreed that having a clear, shared vision outlined at the beginning of the process is vital. “In Manchester you had a level of political stability over time and a deeply experienced town hall,” said Jason Prior, regeneration consultant at Prior Associates. “They had a plan, a direction, a goal – even if you have to be flexible in how you deliver it.”

Delivering new buildings is often the main focus of major regeneration projects, but construction isn’t everything. Prior believes every good regeneration project requires foresight for the spaces in between buildings and how people use them. […]