Estate regeneration can be done well. Here’s how

South London's un-regenerated Heygate estate. Image: Getty.

Everyone knows that regeneration is frequently done badly. Everyone knows that consultation can be tokenistic or faked. These are people’s homes, people’s communities – and people’s lives. People deserve better than being lied to or materially ignored by developers, as is all too frequently the case.

It can be hard to dissociate the very word “regeneration” from all the well-known negative examples. But it is not inherently impossible to upgrade the urban form. It can be done well.

This won’t solve all of society’s ills, which run much deeper and more systematically than anything a change or urban form can fix: education and social capital top architecture.

But what has been proven is that urban form can, and frequently does, have a meaningful impact on wellbeing. Multiple studies have shown that, even accounting for broader socio-economic factors, urban design can have a positive impact if done well – and a negative one if done badly.

And as the housing crisis reaches new levels of the stratosphere, urban form is edging closer to the forefront of policy debate. This gives an opportunity for meaningful action and meaningful impact, to try to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Seven habits of highly effective regenerations

At Create Streets, we use seven tests for assessing regeneration – and argue that there’s scant point in changing the urban fabric of a place if it doesn’t pass these tests. Stubborn? Perhaps, but a development that fails these test will end up doing more harm than good. They are also eminently passable, as we’ll see. 

The seven questions are:

  • Does it have support of residents?
  • Does it have support of neighbours?
  • Does it increase total housing?
  • Does it at least keep social housing equal & treat leaseholders and tenants fairly?
  • Is the new spatial layout better – and does it “plug into” streets and city?
  • Are new internal standards better and good enough?
  • Does it produce mixed community by tenure and use?

Just to be clear, the answer to all of the above should be “yes.”

A lot of high profile estate regenerations have failed these tests: indeed, often one of the reasons why they are high profile is precisely because they’ve not gone about things properly. Neglecting these points can obviously have a negative impact on residents – but more than that, failing these tests creates controversy and therefore opposition.

“Residents could be re-housed without being decanted”

Compliance with these tests should therefore be a no-brainer. As Savills’ recent report for the Cabinet Office recommended, new developments should give “a genuine and privileged role for the local community”. And don’t let anyone tell you that the “value” is not there to do it properly. Again, the recent Savills reports shows quite clearly the value inherent in medium-density, provably popular urbanism. It can work on everybody’s terms.

The secret of my success

The community on north London’s Packington Estate had this sort of input. Built in the late 1960s in Islington, tucked behind Upper Street and bordering the Regent’s Canal, the process of redeveloping the estate began in 2006: a poll of residents approved transfer of ownership to the social landlords the Hyde Group, who then funded the improvements through densifying.

The rebuilding shows the value of effective consultation and dialogue with residents. The process led to an estate that residents were pleased with and proud of. It re-instated integrated streets (86 per cent wanted a new development to reinstate the traditional street pattern), built more houses and, crucially, avoided the high-rise towers residents had explicitly said they did not want. The rebuilding process took place over several stages, meaning that residents could be re-housed without being decanted.

The maximum height at Packington was increased by just 33 per cent (from six storeys to eight). But the development still managed to increase overall density by 56 per cent (from 538 homes to 839). This was a very clear and specific win for residents: Hyde themselves have acknowledged that they would have built higher without this input from residents, and without a planning authority who supported the residents.

The Portobello Square development in North Kensington, by Catalyst Housing, is also worth citing. Its rebuild will create more homes, and the housing of all existing residents, including the social housing provision, will be fully replaced.

After consultation, the key design objectives were reintegration with the surrounding neighbourhood, and the creation of a new square at the heart of the scheme to replace a previously poorly-located square. The visual typology is one of the key strengths of this redevelopment: it was drawn from “traditional Kensington residential precedents,” including mews houses and townhouses, and fits into the local street network. This also helped to keep the development in line with the densities of the borough, the second densest in London. 

Neither of these examples are perfect. Little in life is. Some of the squares in Packington, for example, have confused fronts and backs.

But they do show that working with residents and listening to both their concerns and preferences can lead to a popular urban form that is dense enough to increase London’s total housing stock, but of high enough quality to boost wellbeing and improve lives.

Indeed, if you’re not making better and more popular places that can function as an integrated part of the city for generations then what, in the long term, is the point?

Kieran Toms is a researcher and urban designer at Create Streets, a social enterprise encouraging urban homes in terraced streets.


Brexit: The more educated a city's population, the less likely it was to vote Leave

Oh. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

There are many reasons why someone might have voted for Britain to leave the European Union. Belief in national sovereignty; concerns about immigration; straight up racism.

There are reasons to think, though, the one of the big ones – this is going to be controversial, but it does seem to be true – might be lack of education.

[Brief pause, while I delete my email address from the "contact us" page and build a bunker of some sort.]

Okay, that's not entirely fair. For one thing, we're looking at aggregated, city-wide data here. Cities with (spoilers) with more educated populations were less likely to vote leave – but that tells us nothing about the individuals within them.

For another – say it with me – correlation is not causation. The fact that more educated cities were full of remain voters might be because of some entirely unrelated factor, to do with culture or economics or something else I haven't even thought of.

Those caveats out of the way, though, the results on this as pretty clear cut. Here's an interactive map showing the proportion of working-age residents in each city that have NVQ4 level qualifications or above (graduates, basically). Darker dots mean higher numbers:

That doesn't immediately look like any obvious pattern. But look at the cities which make the top 10:

That’s two university cities, Oxford and Cambridge; three Scottish ones (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow); Bristol, Cardiff, London, and a couple of the capital's plush commuter towns (Reading and Brighton).

Now look at this chart we published on Monday, showing which cities had the highest votes for Remain. The two aren't directly comparable – ours uses local authority boundaries, not (larger) Primary Urban areas, and we covered fewer cities.


This time, the top 10 includes Oxford and Cambridge; three Scottish cities (Edinbrugh, Aberdeen, Glasgow); Bristol, Cardiff, London and Brighton. Nine cities are in the top 10 on both lists.

(The only substitution, incidentally, is that we've lost Reading for Manchester. My guess is that's because the Manchester local authority has a quite different profile to the Manchester PUA, which includes 10 boroughs instead of one. But I'm guessing.)

Here's a scatter graph, plotting graduate population against Remain vote in the 29 cities that are in both data-sets. Once again, it's worth remembering that these are using quite different boundaries, something you'd expect to have an impact on any correlation.

And yet:

That is a correlation co-efficient of 0.84. Which is really, really high. Even though it's different boundaries, and so yada yada yada.

There could be other factors at work here, and Paul Swinney, the chief economist at the Centre for Cities, has been trying to work out what they might be. (His charts use the "leave", rather than "remain", vote so the correlation runs the other way. Also, where a point is on 0 per cent, that's a lack of data, not a city with no graduates whatsoever or some such.)

Here's Pauls chart plotting graduate populations against the leave vote:

This one is residents without five good GCSEs (the closest we have to a sort of school leaving certificate):

This one is residents in skilled manual occupations:

Lastly, one that's rather less clear, plotting wages against leave vote:

So – income wasn't a huge factor. But education level and type of occupation  were pretty clearly factors in how people voted last Thursday.

Or, to put it another way, it seems a lot like less educated people were more likely to vote Leave.

Please don't write in.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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