Urban Regeneration

The importance of place and movement

Both the policy and geographical context in which urban regeneration takes place across the UK has changed considerably over the past five years. Increasingly, local authority planning professionals are kept busy by the need to deliver local plans within the current Local Development Framework processes. Most are struggling to meet suggested housing targets, despite the policies of the so-called Localism Agenda, and many are merging into combined authorities to shore themelves against cuts and increase efficiency.
Local Enterprise Partnerships are directing ecomonic growth, often across spatially incongrous regions. Alongside these initiatives, each transport authority is required to produce a Local Transport Plan (LTP) in which they set out their objectives and plans for developing transport in their area. This latter piece of strategic planning policy has more resonance to urban regeneration than seems likely; increasing evidence shows that a key issue for sustainable urban regeneration is the relationship between mobilty options and economically viable land use planning.
Misguided investment in transport can prioritise development dependent on the car for access to daily amenities and, despite long-terms moves to integrate land use and transport planning, the move away from ‘land use’ to ‘spatial planning’ has made this vital, yet elusive, policy aim much more complex.  Even initiatives such as the 2007 eco-towns programme, planned to create affordable housing and achieve high standards of sustainable living with green space, renewable energy sources and sustainable transport solutions, have been heavility criticised for their lack of progress on delivering sustainable mobility solutions.

Urban regeneration, land use and transport
The Coalition’s Localism Agenda placed new emphasis on planning for economic viability. The challenge for urban regeneration professionals has been to demonstrate how the twin ‘must-haves’ of quality spatial planning - quality of place and connectivity - generate demonstrable economic and social value. Evidence from across the UK points to a lack of consensus and narrative about how, when and why infrastructure, the building blocks of regeneration, should be delivered in the UK. In agreement, research from Campaign for Better Transport demonstrates the benefits of bringing land use and transport planning together, as new developments generate less traffic while benefiting the economy, the environment and public health.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive at Campaign for Better Transport said: “You can tackle housing shortages and support new development without resorting to more sprawling suburbs, acres of car parks and big new roads. Our research shows that across the country new housing and retail development planned around public transport is successfully creating better, more economically productive places. There is clear evidence that when people are offered high quality public transport, a lot of them use it. National government, local authorities and developers urgently need the vision, skills and support to make this kind of development the norm.”

Better connected places
Work undertaken at Space Syntax in recent years has identified many strong correlations between the way space is planned and its economic impact, for example on property taxation and rental income. Good urban design increases investment potential. Indeed, argues Space Syntax’s Tim Stonor, it is possible to argue that it is only through good urban design that property value can be truly realised. But value, of course, can be expressed in social and cultural as well as economic terms. Successful placemaking, at the heart of all good urban regeneration projects, is the sum of all these impacts.
Stoner said: “The everyday activity of people in places is influenced by the way that spatial layout design makes it easier, or more difficult, for them to move around.”
The more accessible a place is, the more movement it experiences. Movement leads to sustainable land use, and so spatial layout is intimately linked to social and economic indicators, such as the viability of retail and commercial activity.
The importance of urban layout for new development and retrofit is beyond question, although older, well-understood guidelines such as PPS1, PPS3, PPS12, By Design and Safer Places have been consolidated into the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and a handful of design ‘guidelines’. The issue for many urban planners has been that there is tangible value in good urban design when planning regeneration. Their goal has been to show exactly how this ‘place value’ can be measured through the analysis of key urban design components such as connectivity and local movement networks, spatial layout geometry, land use distribution and density – and how these factors lead to economic spend and viability.

Measure and manage
The characteristics of any place, along with its accessibility and connectivity, determine how likely it is to be popular and economically viable. Whilst many aspects of design such as street widths, building heights or construction materials are directly measurable, the ‘magic mix’ of a great place is much less tangible. Urban layout, and especially its effects on social, cultural and economic aspects of community, is one such intangible asset; very difficult to visualise and measure during the planning process.

To help overcome this problem, methods to quantify and measure the relational properties of urban layout within its context have been developed by academic researchers.
One big step forward has been the development of tools and processes that measure the complex matrix of urban design value. The prevalence of ‘big data’ and related scenario-testing tools, increasingly available to local authorities, mean that planners can now support the decision-making process. Potential developers have difficult choices to make; by building wider stakeholder opinion and introducing urban design characteristics into real estate financial modelling, all parties can begin to speak a common language.
These new tools reveal the crucial contribution of local movement networks to sustainable regeneration. Stoner suggests that they show that it is not, and never has been, all about major roads and big infrastructure, but nor is it only about local streets and squares. Instead, research indicates that what matters is the way places connect at all scales: macro, meso and micro. It is about how larger-scale movement converts into, and interacts with smaller-scale movement to generate the interactions that lead to social and economic transactions. This balance has been lost in recent decades, usually with too much of an emphasis on the macro as witnessed by extensive road building, but very little positive place-making.
The challenge for urban regeneration professionals should be to show politicians and investors, along with the readily-funded transport sector, how multi-scale activity rooted in quality of place generates real, economic value. But this argument has often been lost either because urban designers have focused too much on local placemaking (and therefore too little on the planning of towns at every scale) or because their analytic methods have been too few and too weak in the face of road-oriented transport planning scenarios.
It is only in the past few years that the very real threats of air pollution and associated public health challenges, linked conclusively to non-active and unhealthy sedentary lifestyles, have alerted government to the need to pay serious attention to ‘designing in’ activity when planning either large-scale regeneration or new communities.

Creative funding
Part of the problem is the routes by which funding can be channelled, and the lack of links between options for delivering transport and regeneration schemes in tandem. Researchers have long sought the ‘Holy Grail’ of evidence linking transport schemes to successful development initiatives, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that good transport links increase land and property values.
But London’s Crossrail scheme, which has been partly funded by innovative business rate levies, is one of the first major schemes to demonstrate the added-value link. Crossrail has attracted impressive levels of property development along the route of the new £14.8bn east-west line, with nearly half of developers citing improved mobility as a motive for construction in 2013. Between 2008 and 2013, an average of 41 per cent of planning applications within a kilometre of stations cited the route as a justification for going ahead with construction, rising to 48 per cent in the first half of 2013, according to research by property consultancy GVA.
In buoyant centres such as London, even the once-poverty stricken East End can demonstrate such urban regeneration successes, largely credited to improved transport links. However, recent work from UCL’s Dr Chia-Lin Chen has shown that it remains difficult to either prove and substantiate the effects of transport investment in the short term. Importantly, transport infrastructure seems to have a generative effect in less developed economies, and a redistributive impact in more developed ones.

It is also difficult to isolate observed effects from other indispensable factors. Yet Dr Chen finds that impacts of transport systems can be broadly divided into two main groups: direct and indirect.
Direct impacts tend to indicate immediate consequences of transport services and operation, for example time saving, ridership, or modal shift. Indirect impacts indicate a much wider spectrum of impacts associated with land use, townscape, image, urban spatial structure, land/property value capture, business operation and consumer services, labour market and employment, agglomeration effects, and rebalancing effects (reducing spatial inequality).
The importance of these indirect impacts cannot be over-estimated. Over the past five years, there have been moves, led by government, to re-balance the way major infrastructure schemes are funded by including a keener focus on both wider econmic impacts, and on the broader ‘strategic’ case for making better places in social and environmental terms. Sadly, the strategic case is, as yet, unspecified and requires further development work before it impacts funding flows.
But it is clear that transport infrastructure is no longer is regarded merely as a means with which to connect people and places. Connectivity is an important component of successful urban regeneration and place-making: local and global mobility functions enhance a city’s image and quality of life, and set the stage for densification and agglomeration economies.

Juliana O’Rourke is the editorial director at Resource for Urban Development International (RUDI), Europe’s leading resource dedicated to urban design, development and placemaking.

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