What is Regeneration about now?

Elizabeth Wrigley, Director at Core Connections gives thought to what regeneration means for towns and cities, and rural areas

The word regeneration has for many decades signified reinventing uses for interesting industrial structures, bringing life back to abandoned docks, manufacturing areas and canal sides, and creating new lifestyles such as loft living and waterfront development. Most regeneration has taken place in the inner areas of the larger cities. Some amazing new quarters have emerged, such as around the canal in Birmingham and along Regents Canal in London behind Kings Cross.

Rural landscapes can also be the subject of regeneration projects. The climate change resilience programmes will in many cases require urban and rural areas to be considered together, to arrange rainfall catchment management and to enable food to be grown.

Whilst ‘regeneration’ has meant bringing new and funky enterprises to towns, and housing them in interesting old buildings, there were some similar projects in small towns and countryside areas. A concert hall and studios in Snape Maltings are in the midst of reed marshes, and riverside projects reinvent the centres of small towns such as Stroud and the waterfront at Kings Lynn. In Stowmarket, the Museum for East Anglian Life reuses a formal historic house and park in the centre of town and the John Peel Centre is housed in a disused Corn Exchange: both are cultural projects to interpret aspects of recent past life in rural Suffolk.

With the need to reinvent uses for high street shops, some are becoming start-up business locations for small artistic enterprises. A study of London’s suburban high streets in 2013 by the Bartlett School UCL suggested that whilst many people do not visit their local high streets to shop, they visit specialist businesses and also to meet friends. It is the quality of its open spaces and the convergence of several walking routes that make a place a centre.

New Towns and Garden Cities are also being regenerated. In Milton Keynes, the town centre regeneration is taking the form of adding buildings and changing car-dominated boulevards into people-friendly places and improving links to the rail station. Similar, if on a much smaller scale, is the recent town centre revitalisation in Letchworth Garden City, where the cinema has been renewed, a college opened and the Spirella corset-making factory is reinvented as a hub for many businesses, plus a café and conference centre.

Using assets in the community for regeneration

Milton Keynes Council has observed that some towns and cities have underused and wasted land assets, as well as areas of social exclusion. Regeneration for Milton Keynes is “the process of redeveloping that land and revitalising the area by attracting economic investment and new employment and creating a much-improved living environment.”

The introduction of renewable energy in Burlington in Vermont is an interesting form of regeneration. Coal power is being changed to biomass power, reusing trees that have fallen throughout the forests in the town’s hinterland and across the highways, often as a result of storms. The town will also introduce hydropower, solar PV and wind energy, so their regeneration policy covers a range of renewable energy options.

Regeneration using a public-private partnership

Burlington is also a pioneer as it operates a City Centre Tax Increment Financing scheme to “build a walkable downtown core”. The city bought land from developers for a park to provide future residents with natural areas. Shown as such in the TIF District Plan, the park could be funded from the TIF if the community votes in favour. Public participation was in February 2015, with several options available on a web site. A hands-on workshop, a “workshop” through the area, collected thoughts for opportunities within this natural space. In Los Angeles, an 11-acre landfill site is designated as an ‘ecotown’ where communities will plant up and manage the site. Called Korea Town, it also has a local participation process and is committed to economic, social, cultural and ecological dimensions of sustainability.

Working with artists

Rail stations have been a focus around which much urban renaissance has spun its webs. In several rail station projects the local communities want to try to make the places more interesting, characterful and to reflect the local area. Projects in stations such as Hackney, Kings Cross, and Peckham seek to create somewhere a little unusual, celebrating these specific stations as the places that the local residents and businesses use regularly. Using artists, for example, to introduce glass in imaginative ways, mixing uses, creating business space right next to the station hub are all aspects of the new regeneration scene.

The new types of open space

The High Line in New York is perhaps the most well-known example of a redundant rail line becoming a landscaped park, but in Paris, there is a similar project called the Promenade Plantee: it offers a tranquil greenspace like the High Line.

Lurie Gardens in Chicago is a new park, featuring a very large green roof mostly made of polystyrene materials as it has to be light: it covers a car park and rail lines. The area offers a sanctuary in the space between the very dense city centre and the edge of the lake, and is next to Grant Park, the lakeside area, “forever open, clear and free”. Lurie Gardens follows the tradition of Chicago’s motto City in the Garden. Lurie Gardens has an endowment to cover its maintenance.

The examples above have common aspects: they are about the high quality of planting and feature trees, shrubs and bulbs. Contact with nature is sought in cities as well as in the countryside and this is a feature of our new regeneration programmes.


Elizabeth Wrigley


Core Connections

Tel: 020 8694 6226




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