Top Ten Regeneration Tips

At HemingwayDesign we work in a number of towns and cities that have suffered economically and socially over the past decades and I occasionally attend round table discussions or conferences in these towns that focus on regeneration. There is no fairy dust (as Oliver Wainwright said about what we do, possibly snidely, see here) to be sprinkled, but rather a complex and diverse set of actions and situations that can help to help a place improve for its residents and visitors. At a conference I spoke at last week one of the delegates stopped me and said; “The media and the internet is full of Top Ten Tips, but I have never seen a regeneration top ten tips”.

It prompted me to empty my head. So here goes, in no particular order of importance, my “Top Ten Regeneration Tips”:

1. A diverse set of elected councillors that includes some young un’s (under 35) that are in touch with the next generation, questioning and truly represent diversity in age, sex, ethnic background, interests, taste etc. I come across far too many councils that are dominated by those close to or past retirement age. Anyone who becomes a councillor to represent their community should be applauded, and I know it is much easier to give time when you are older but many northern European countries seem to be able to get a better mix so why can’t we? Where we have come across a wider age range (Boscombe is an example) then there has been much less risk averse thinking.

In the UK 68 per cent of councillors were male, 31 per cent were female. The proportion of female councillors has increased from 28 per cent in 1997. The average age of councillors has increased from 55 in 1997 to 60 in 2010. 96 per cent of councillors were white and 4 per cent came from an ethnic minority background. –National Census of Local Authority Councillors 2010

John Whitelegg has wrote a book that shows national differences and their impact called: Quality of Life and Public Management: Redefining Development in the Local Environment

2. Encourage a town centre to have life and after the shops have closed. People like getting together. Noise, hustle and bustle excite most people (hence why more people choose to live in large towns and cities than rural locations). Don’t build retirement homes (which crave peace and quiet) in places where there could/should be night clubs and noisy bars or expect planning difficulties. Don’t give planning permission for out of town nightclubs, restaurants, cinemas, hotels, leisure… keep them in the centre. Encourage densification in centres and fill every space above commercial with places to live.

3.  Build a vibrant further education sector that has as much presence as possible in the centre. Try to engender close relationships between further education, local government and the private sector. Do everything to encourage graduates to stay and work/set up business in the town or city where they studied.

4.  Get people on the streets, encourage walking and cycling. Do more pedestrianisation. The belief (heavily lobbied by the car industry and the likes of the AA and RAC and by Boris Johnson in London) that businesses suffer if cars are not dominant and have access just about everywhere, is poppycock. There is so much research out there that proves this wrong, try this for starters. 

Upset drivers by having traffic lights that allow cyclists to move off first. Take a leaf out of Copenhagen’s book and create “constant speed lanes” for cyclists and use mobile phone data to programme traffic lights to favour the rush hour cycle commuters.

Add to this the health benefits and the well being generated by being able to walk and cycle safely in our towns and cities and it’s a no brainer.

5. Be generous. Take a leaf from St Pancras station and those public pianos, or those table tennis tables that enliven Brighton seafront and those free push button public barbeques that make folk so happy in Australian towns and cities. More on this here

6.  If the community feel strongly about something then council need to do everything in their power to support them. The community led, compulsory purchase of Dreamland in Margate by Thanet Council is a great story of “people power” being supported by a council.


7. Invest in the Arts. From the Turner Contemporary in Margate to The Sage in Gateshead, to the wonderful work being done by Culture Liverpool in putting on public events. For me, there is no city quite like Liverpool to unite behind an event. The City is looking better than ever and is enjoying a well-documented and nonetheless incredible trajectory since 2008 when it was City of Culture.

The events of the past few years held by the city (The Giants, recently The Three Queens) have captured the imagination of the people of Liverpool and beyond and helped it rise from being the 15th most visited city to the 5th. In addition it has given young people confidence which is manifesting itself in the exciting Jamaica Street and adjoin streets.

Derry – Londonderry is also on a similar events and creative led journey to Liverpool.

8. Do retail well in the way that Liverpool One did more than just add shops, it added them in the right place, it helped connect other retail areas to the waterfront and it created event spaces and festival sites.  Support independents in the way that Blackburn is Open and Gateshead Council did 7 years ago.

9.  Councils should sometimes turn a blind eye to somethings that they don’t quite understand, can’t control but can allow to flourish. “Absence of government” allowed the Mitte District in Berlin to become one of the world’s most forward thinking and exciting places.

10. Be Brave, don’t fear the wierdo, don’t fear that often nasty local press, don’t fear those internet trolls (positive people have better things to do than comment on everything you do), don’t fear failure if the aim was in the best interests of the community.

I found that hard to stick to ten (there are so many more ingredients) and am sure I will want to revisit and rethink this on an irregular basis!