Smart urban regeneration projects put people and partnerships first

20 Jul 2016

If urban renewal is to succeed today, we need cohesive spaces that enhance quality of life

Dan Labbad

Chief Executive Officer Europe

Sometime around 2007 a major global turning point was reached: the earth’s population became more urban than rural.

Today the migration of people into cities around the world remains one of the greatest demographic shifts in human history; and by 2050 the number of city-dwellers will swell to 70% of the global population.

As cities come under increasing pressure from this steady influx of people – coupled with rising population growth – the demands of trying to house, transport and supply residents with essential services is stretching cities’ resources to the limit. It is hardly a surprise that urbanisation has exacerbated housing shortages, unemployment, inequality, crime and climate change.

But what if the influx itself was not the problem? Rather, it was the city that was failing to respond to these pressures creatively. This was the argument of Lendlease founder, Dick Dusseldorp, more than 55 years ago. He noted that semi-rural housing developments were being applied inappropriately to dense urban areas.

Dusseldorp saw that a smart urban development alternative was required. Otherwise, the cost of meeting the needs of the city’s dispersed population would rise to unsustainable levels, while the inner city would continue to deteriorate.

“It is no longer enough to just add at random to what is already there,” Dusseldorp argued. “We must devise a creative ideal for the city of the future.” One of the best ways of achieving this would involve “rebuilding the inner city” as part of large-scale, interconnected urban regeneration projects.

A man ahead of his time, he set out what he envisaged as the best way forward: an immense collaborative effort between public and private sectors with community interest placed firmly centre stage. Governments have often lacked the resources required to regenerate large urban areas on their own. Dusseldorp argued that, in order for urban regeneration to succeed, there needed to be a close partnership between business and government based on mutual respect.
This sort of public-private partnership is now recognised as one of the foremost solutions to the social and economic challenges faced by modern, rapidly urbanising cities across the world.

The key ingredient to this model, however, is ensuring the built environment is fit for the future. In other words, social and environmental considerations should form the basis of urban renewal plans and help public authorities deliver lasting outcomes. Bringing together the private and public sector should create broad economic and social benefits for the whole community, such as affordable housing, training opportunities and sustained employment.

In the post-war rush to build homes across the UK (peaking in the early 1970s), errors in the design and quality of the homes arose – many of which are being demolished a mere 30 years later. The Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle is one example, an optimistic yet oppressive neo-brutalist monolith of  council homes, which quickly fell into disrepair and a cycle of socio-economic problems.

With Dusseldorp’s mantra in mind, Lendlease’s partnership with Southwark Council has put people firmly at the centre of its regeneration project of the central London area. Working alongside Southwark, Lendlease is determined to create a cohesive neighbourhood that will enhance quality of life and has worked closely with the local community to do so. By 2025 the whole area will be opened up by 4.5 hecrares of community space, parks, squares and gardens, with hundreds of newly planted trees, which will tie the thousands of new mixed-tenure homes, shops, restaurants and community facilities together so that those living, working or spending time in the area can mingle and move easily.

Green roofs, walls and planting along with the largest park in 70 years will provide biodiverse habitats, improve the local environment and provide green amenity for the entire community well beyond the immediate development.

If urban renewal is to succeed, developers and government must work together to ensure the health and wellbeing of the ever-growing urban population is improved. Equally, we need to respond to resource scarcity by conserving materials and water, and introduce green space to inner city areas to help them better adapt to the impact of climate change.

Just as Dusseldorp deliberated in 1961, now more than ever cities need to find creative ways to overcome the challenges presented by rapid urbanisation. And that puts the onus resolutely on business, government and community to work collectively to create places that will stand the test of time.