Regeneration or Gentrification?

The regeneration of a deprived area has, at first glance, outcomes of a predominantly positive nature. However, some argue that as plans for revitalization within our cities increase, inequality escalates alongside them.

Said to be an essential factor in improving the vibrancy of a neighbourhood, regeneration work involves numerous techniques aimed at making an area more appealing & engaging, which in turn leads to further investment and thus increased opportunities for the area. Methods of regeneration can include improving public spaces, creating new jobs and strengthening the local economy, which all work to counter urban decay. However, while the intentional impacts appear to be only of benefit to local residents and businesses alike, consideration needs to be given to the potential unintended effects that may occur.

Inadvertent impacts of an areas renewal are collectively known as the process of Gentrification. Gentrification tends to stem from an increase in land prices as a result of the area having become more desirable. This can see affordable housing & commercial space become increasingly scarce and, as a result, original inhabitants suffer from displacement. The consequential loss of social diversity can fuel inequality and social exclusion, and result in subsequent resentment and conflict, thus eradicating community cohesion altogether.

Gentrification is traditionally associated with typical regeneration efforts such as the provision of new residential developments, an influx of retail and commercial developments and improved public spaces. However, a recent article in The Guardian discussed the growing phenomenon of ‘environmental gentrification’, a term used to describe the inadvertent displacement of residents & businesses due to an increase in property value as a result of urban greening.

As an example of environmental gentrification in action, rhe article referred to the famous New York City High Line and its effects to its surrounding community. With more than 5 million visitors each year, the greening initiative is said to have ‘transformed the entire socio-economic character of the neighbourhood that surrounds it’, forcing out small businesses and moderate-income residents who can no longer afford to be there, whilst instead pandering to an influx of tourists.  With London’s Garden Bridge getting the go-ahead, it poses the question; does the Southbank need be bracing itself for a similar level of environmental gentrification?

Developers need to be aware of the social and economic impacts their developments can have to an area by giving equal consideration to the benefits of regeneration and the potential negative impacts of gentrification. It is therefore important to understand the socio-economic character baseline of the area in which the development is intended. With that understanding, the intended revitalization effects can be thoroughly explored to ensure maximum enhancement, whilst appropriate mitigation for gentrification can be implemented to reduce negative impacts and secure social equality.

Ways of doing this include efforts such as active community consultation to explore & address the needs & concerns of original inhabitants, commitments to retain a number of local residents and businesses through affordability schemes such as discounted rents and, where necessary, assistance in appropriate relocation.

Whilst it cannot be denied that urban regeneration brings economic and social benefits to an area, there is an increasing desire for elements of the original character of the area to be retained. The challenge is in ensuring development allows for small local businesses, and moderate income residents to be included and incorporated in regeneration plans through the allocation of space, and economic support.