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| Broadening approaches to urban regenerationMany European cities have areas where economic, social and environmental problems cause hardship for local communities. Unfortunately, these so-called large urban distressed areas are not easy to rehabilitate. Politicians and planners are often under pressure to make changes to improve local quality of life, although they may lack the know-how to produce effective, long-lasting sustainable redevelopment strategies. The EU-funded LUDA (Large Urban Distressed Areas) project aims to develop new tools, methods and approaches that will help decision-makers produce effective plans for urban rehabilitation.
LUDA aims to offer an innovative approach to tackle these problems based on a comprehensive data-collection and assessment exercise. The project team works on the premise that urban regeneration must be viewed holistically and be linked with general quality-of-life issues. That means finding ways to improve the environmental sustainability of an area, while increasing economic prosperity and rates of social inclusion.
Regeneration must also be sensitive to cultural and heritage issues, and be an inclusive process that encourages co-operation between local communities and decision-makers.
“We believe that existing urban rehabilitation programmes have been rather narrow in focus,” explained Prof. Bernhard Mueller, the LUDA project coordinator. “They are often limited in size and scope, and do not adequately address broader quality-of-life issues.”
LUDA is promoting the exchange of information and experiences between six project partner cities – Edinburgh, Dresden, Valenciennes, Bratislava, Florence and Lisbon. In addition to the cities, the LUDA consortium includes partners drawn from across Europe who are expert in dealing with particular aspects of urban renewal, including regional development bodies, geographers, architects and others who understand the built environment.
The project has also established a group of 12 reference cities which all have experience in dealing with distressed areas and urban regeneration. Essentially, the reference cities offer the LUDA team a rich selection of case studies that can be used to build up knowledge about regeneration.
The consortium make-up has paid dividends in terms of sharing knowledge and structuring research, according to Prof. Mueller. “Close co-operation between the researchers and the representative cities has allowed us to establish local clusters of research whose activities and findings can be networked to the whole LUDA team.”
LUDA’s findings will support cities as they initiate and manage new approaches to regeneration. The project’s aim is to help the likes of planners and politicians to understand both the complex problems and potential in large urban distressed areas. By developing an inclusive decision-making approach, LUDA should encourage those who hold the levers of power to interact with the local community and explore its needs and aspirations. Those using LUDA’s broad approach should be able to use regeneration funding more effectively and bring together programmes and projects that might otherwise lack synergy.
By helping local authorities and their partners to produce clearer long-term strategies, LUDA’s work is also likely to encourage more private investment, promote good governance and make it easier to access public funds.
The project is due to finish in May 2006, but results already show that these often neglected areas of our cities can have a positive future, providing there is some creative thinking. Prof. Mueller explains: “Our analysis shows that many of the areas that need re-development are rather heterogeneous – we came to the conclusion that this is an advantage because such areas have a great deal of potential.” For example, an area may have a large section of derelict housing or old industrial structures that need pulling down, which could be transformed into new green space for community use.
LUDA has developed a monitoring system to help cities assess how quality of life is improving after the implementation of redevelopment strategies. The system explores both internal and external perceptions of change. “Assessing internal perception allows us to see how people who are living and working in an area see their quality of life changing,” explains Prof. Mueller. “Gauging external perceptions – of experts, politicians, potential investors – allows a city to check if an area undergoing regeneration is becoming more attractive to outsiders.”
The project has also offered support to cities that were not used to engaging broad stakeholder participation in the planning process. For example, project partners from the Dublin Institute of Technology ran visioning workshops to improve participatory processes in Bratislava. The team is now finalising a handbook containing case studies and methodologies which can be used by agencies that want to improve the quality of life in large urban distressed areas.
Prof. Mueller believes that LUDA will provide a fresh impetus for urban regeneration. “I think the project has shown the need for a transparent regeneration process for urban areas which follows a broader quality of life approach – in the past, approaches were not flexible enough to bring in different perspectives under one umbrella. “LUDA has developed a consistent approach in terms of its methodologies, what we mean by quality of life, and by illustrating the value of including different perspectives on regeneration.”