Regeneration without Gentrification

Published on:
Tuesday March 31, 2020

‘Gentrification’ is a word that can immediately set people on edge, calling to mind skyrocketing rents, artisan avocado oil soup, and ludicrously priced pints. It is perhaps the dominant concern of regenerative efforts in modern urban planning; once the jokes about cereal cafés and turmeric lattes have been cracked, there are tangible and very understandable underlying concerns about the potential for residential displacement and reductions in affordable housing. For those who have spent their life in a specific area, and feel a strong sense of attachment to their community, the prospect of being priced out of the area is not just an economic concern, but a threat to their identity.

Fears of gentrification are something with which every developer involved in regenerative urban planning must contend. They cannot be overlooked; rather, they should be addressed for the benefit of existing residents. Regeneration and gentrification are often confused, and while, in some cases, the two have come to be synonymous, this is far from universally being the case.

Community focussed approach

What ultimately distinguishes gentrification from regeneration is the loss of sight of the existing community in an area, an ignorance of their culture and their needs. For a genuinely sensitive and successful regeneration project, those involved must make the effort to properly understand the community in which they are working, and thoughtfully engage with the people, organisations, and businesses already in the area. The best approach to regeneration is a place-based one, taking a more holistic look at an area and looking to improve its housing, services, and local economy in tandem. While the public sector has a significant role to play in the process, the greatest regenerative success stories of the last decade have seen a strong level of private sector involvement.

The loss of affordable housing is often a significant concern, but there are a number of ways in which this can be avoided. Affordable housing provision is a cornerstone of successful regeneration, and actions such as setting minimum requirements for affordable housing provision and bringing unused brownfield land into residential use should be taken as part of a development. Prior to development, those involved in a project should have a sense of the housing requirements of the area, and develop accordingly. In doing so, the benefits of investment can be enjoyed by residents across the economic spectrum.

Evolution over revolution

Examples of successful regenerative efforts have all put the community at their centre. In the North West, the regeneration of Anfield saw a coalition of developers, businesses, and local government turn their focus away from football fans and onto residents, who for the longest time had felt overlooked and ignored. The combination of public and private efforts retained the social and affordable housing, while also providing broad new home ownership opportunities. Similarly, in our home city of Manchester, another public/private coalition saw West Gorton transformed from a neglected estate to one with a long list of prospective buyers and renters, now touted by the Government as an example of best practice in regeneration. Every community has its existing strengths, and regeneration involves building on these. Regeneration should be something transformative, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, uplifting communities, evoking pride, and preserving what makes them special, instead of looking to replace them.

Residents cannot be blamed for their fears about gentrification, particularly given the precedents that do exist. Rather, it is the job of councils and developers alike to prove to residents that their concerns are unfounded, and that regenerative efforts are for their benefit, as well as future occupants. The most effective way of achieving this, without a doubt, is to properly and meaningfully engage with them. Project partners must educate themselves on the communities in which they are operating, their histories and their cultures, allowing them to recognise the ways in which their efforts can improve opportunity and investment while remaining true to communities’ spirits.