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City-wide Urban Regeneration: Lessons from Good Practice - Research Findings

DescriptionThis study, based on an evaluation of best practice in City-wide strategies and partnership within five English cities and four European cities.
ISBN0 7480 8249 2
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateOctober 08, 1999
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No 66City-wide Urban Regeneration: Lessons from Good Practice: 1999

Professor Michael Carley and Karryn Kirk (School of Planning and Housing, Edinburgh College of Art/Heriot-Watt University)

An important innovation in urban regeneration during the 1990s has been the evolution of a City-wide perspective. This approach usually encompasses both the organisational framework, in terms of a City-wide partnership of key stakeholders, and the spatial focus of the regeneration strategy at the city level. The City-wide approach then provides the context for area-based, estate neighbourhood regeneration. This study, based on an evaluation of best practice in City-wide strategies and partnership within five English cities and four European cities, drew out key lessons as a point of information and inspiration for local stakeholders.

Main Findings

  • The importance of leadership and vision is emphasised. In the local authority commitment by the Leadership and the Chief Executive's Department is essential to ensure the evolution of a culture of partnership, and to drive forward a common regeneration agenda. Vision is necessary to set the broad framework of aspirations and principles which guide the development of strategy and action plans. A vision process must involve widespread participation and must link to strategy, action and targets for achievement.
  • The most sophisticated strategic partnerships develop strategy at two levels: the economic and sustainable development strategy at city or travel-to-work level, which establishes the forward vision and programme for economic growth, social inclusion and environmental improvement; and the operational regeneration strategy, which oversees funded regeneration programmes.
  • Successful partnerships are characterised by involvement of senior business leaders as well as pro-active involvement of the Chamber of Commerce, Training and Enterprise Council or Business Forum. The voluntary sector can provide a city wide perspective and local community organisations need to have access to participation in city-wide initiatives. The report notes the importance of community capacity building and of reaching out to residents often excluded from the process such as young people.
  • In terms of size and management, regeneration boards need to consider representativeness alongside workability and must be of sufficient stature to take decisions. Boards also need a degree of independence from parent agencies and supported by a secretariat of full time staff.
  • Fast track mechanisms for council decision making are essential in breaking down barriers between line departments as is the need to keep councillors fully informed.


In evaluating city wide urban regeneration strategies, the study draws upon the principles of sustainable development in providing a framework for analysis. The study states that the overall purpose of regeneration must be to: initiate lasting improvements which benefit not only existing but future generations, thus breaking cycles of disadvantage which characterise households in regeneration area; and to integrate economic, social and physical development to a beneficial outcome. Another dimension is the emerging focus on processes of governance, management and democratic participation, which are necessary to achieve sustainability.

Given the range of issues to be tackled in regeneration, it is obvious that there are no easy or fast solutions. However, sustainable regeneration comes about from a positive relationship between the regeneration strategy process and the organisational framework. Any analysis must therefore attempt to evaluate both the quality of the regeneration strategy and of partnership itself. Key criteria in assessing sustainability of city strategies are identified as:

  • gives robust, long term solutions, of benefit to the next generation while being cost-effective for the current generation;
  • encourages leadership and vision at the city level;
  • implies steady, strategic processes of urban development intended to weather unforeseen intervening variables, such as derive from the global economy;
  • links physical development to social and economic regeneration at the city level;
  • generates positive reinforcement (or multiplier benefits) between development or investment sectors - housing, employment, education, training, retailing, transport etc.
  • fosters continuous innovation, which implies "learning by doing" or adaptive management, with systematic monitoring of targets and achievement and adjustment of City-wide strategy;
  • leads consistently towards a physical, economic and social re-integration of hitherto disadvantaged estates or neighbourhoods into the broader townscape; and
  • links the top-down and bottom-up, that is, City-wide policy linked to neighbourhood innovation, in a manner which fosters community involvement in regeneration partnerships.

The Study

The methodology involved library and desk research, supplemented by key informant interviews in the English case study cities. The case studies are intended to give a broad picture of strategic regeneration initiatives in responding to common problems of economic restructuring and increasing social polarisation. For each case study, the research team sought to:

  • document the processes, structures and mechanisms;
  • review the aims and objectives;
  • establish the role of key actors and their contribution tot he development of the strategy;
  • identify how they involve the community;
  • identify problems or barriers to strategy development and partnership.

Table 1.1: List of Case Studies

UK - First Round of City Pride

Birmingham City Pride

Manchester City Pride

UK - Other Partnerships

The Leeds Initiative

Greater Nottingham Partnership

Coventry and Warwickshire Partnerships

Continental European

Barcelona, Spain

Lille, France

Amsterdam and the Randstad, Netherlands

Copenhagan, Denmark

Lessons of City-Wide Regeneration

Evaluation of the English and European case studies identified a number of key lessons which may inform practice. These include:

  • National initiatives such as City Challenge, City Pride and Pathfinder play a positive catalyst role in encouraging city-wide strategy development in England;
  • Vision and policy which reinforce the vital role of cities in national economic development underpin regeneration in successful cities;
  • The continental case studies demonstrate that urban development and regeneration benefit from a high degree of integration between national settlement strategy, encompassing land use, transport and economic development and similar plans at regional, sub-regional and city levels;
  • While local promotion of economic development is fundamental to regeneration, no city studies have resolved the difficulty of ensuring the benefits reach the most disadvantaged households;
  • Genuine partnership between stakeholders and learning-by-doing are fundamental to strategic regeneration and local governance;
  • A successful city wide regeneration strategy, although requiring intelligent analysis of a city's prospects and resources, is first and foremost dependent on a high quality strategic partnership. The strategy derives from mutual learning among equal partners, in analysing problems and devising solutions giving rise to commitment to the strategy;
  • Because successful city-wide initiatives are about the future of the city, they are dependent on commitment and involvement at Leader and Chief Executive level in local government, which encourages involvement of partners from equal stature;
  • The development of a vision of the future of the city is increasingly an important first step in developing a common agenda for a city-wide regeneration strategy;
  • The case studies demonstrate that, at the city-wide level, strategic regeneration is indistinguishable from good urban governance. At municipal level, what might be called an urban development or corporate plan might be necessary to integrate various policy streams;
  • Successful regeneration is characterised by regular assessment of regeneration strategy with management and representative arrangement evolving in light of changing circumstances.


Evaluating practice in city-wide urban regeneration elsewhere serves to enhance our understanding of the importance such strategic approaches can have in generating more sustainable solutions. The research highlights opportunities for positive linkage between strategic regeneration and developments in local government including Community Planning and Best Value initiatives. Finally, in recognising the organisational and informational constraints or opportunities which may inhibit or promote the achievements of city-wide strategy, the research identifies good practice and suggests ways in which stakeholders can improve strategy development and enhance quality in partnership in urban regeneration.

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