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Recherche et société

Breathing new life into run?down neighbourhoods

Local association "De Kooi" in Leiden (Netherlands) - "The most efficient local initiatives are those which establish their own priorities and are underpinned by wider policies at urban, regional or national level".
Local association "De Kooi" in Leiden (Netherlands)
"The most efficient local initiatives are those which establish their own priorities and are underpinned by wider policies at urban, regional or national level".

Glasgow, Malmö, Leiden, Duisburg, Nancy, Naples - six towns where local associations are battling to revitalise less?favoured areas, with employment as an essential but certainly not unique ingredient. These local development initiatives are analysed in the ELSES project, a new kind of assessment, involving researchers and field workers right from the start.

"Until the early 1990s, in most European countries local policy to combat social exclusion

focused primarily on the most urgent needs, such as health, housing or subsistence. It is only recently that we have also seen economic projects aimed at tackling root causes. Public authorities are now beginning to support the development of new companies, individual employment initiatives and targeted training in these less?favoured urban areas," explains Sabine Weck, a researcher at the ILS research institute in Dortmund, which is coordinating the EU's ELSES project.

What distinguishes this project is that researchers and field workers have been involved right from the start. They have worked in close synergy, analysing the different strategies for local socio?economic development in specific neighbourhoods located in needy urban areas.

From one neighbourhood to another

In March 1999 - the half?way point for the project - an initial seminar was held in Naples giving the researchers and associations the chance to compare their experiences and the different contexts. In Germany, where the national public sector assumes the traditional role of the welfare state, local development initiatives are managed largely by politicians and officials, the local community not really having much say in defining priorities and deciding on measures. In the United Kingdom, where the welfare state has been trimmed considerably in recent years, the well?established role of local associations has grown. As an example, Govan Initiative employs 164 people and manages an annual budget of 6 million euros. In Italy, in the urban area of Pomigliano d'Arco (Naples) - the scene of development schemes under European, national and regional programmes - the local authority has a certain autonomy and plays a particularly active role in initiatives focusing primarily on job creation. But almost everywhere, bureaucratic red tape can put a damper on projects - if not on enthusiasm.

Beyond the figures

At this first seminar, the partners decided to concentrate on three subjects: social integration through work (placements, training, etc.), the social economy (based on the services generated by and for the community) and support for entrepreneurial initiatives (help within setting up enterprises, financial advice and services, development of infrastructure permitting network activities).

"We are used to measuring these actions in terms of concrete results, such as how many jobs they generate. The number of jobs created is bound to be low in a regional environment with rising unemployment among the unskilled and a stagnant overall employment situation," points out Sabine Weck. "But apart from this aspect, very?small?scale local regeneration actions serve to restore social links, create new networks, introduce factors which improve the quality of life and living conditions in a neighbourhood, and open up new opportunities for participating in social life. These are all very real elements, even if they cannot be measured in the same way. There is a need to go beyond one?dimensional strategies if we are to solve issues that are not at all one-dimensional."

Autonomy and time

These projects have been carried out in very different geographic, institutional socio?economic and cultural contexts. Some associations have worked on these issues for a long time while other cases involve pilot experiments. In spite of this diversity, the partners have reached a number of common conclusions. With very clearly targeted objectives and relatively modest initial investment, in terms of cost and human resources, these "micro" initiatives might have socio?economic "macro" benefits. The innovative capacity of these groups is often linked with the absence of red tape. The most effective local initiatives are those which determine their own priorities and are underpinned by broader policies at urban, regional and national level.

According to Sabine Weck, one of the conditions for the success of local development is the willingness of the authorities to delegate a part of their powers to local groups. These strategies are built up over time. We have to learn to eliminate the least efficient practices, understand relations between a district and larger entities, become proactive in a development process, invest in essential programmes, and take action in line with carefully determined needs. We need time, and this is why supervision and evaluation are also very important tools in evolving these policies.

The ELSES partners presented their conclusions at the conference in Dortmund in March 2000. The meeting also served as a forum for discussions between researchers, field workers and political decision?makers. According to the project coordinator, "this project will be a success if it manages to bridge the traditional divide between those who make policy, those who implement policy, and those who assess its results. Such a link will require close cooperation ? and constant feedback ? between these various parties".


Evaluation of local socio-economic strategies in disadvantaged urban areas (ELSES)


Targeted Socio-Economic Research Programme (TSER)

Sabine Weck
Fax: +49-231-9051155
E-mail :

-Institut für Landes- und Stadtentwicklungsforschung des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dortmund, Germany (coordinator)
- University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
- Entwicklungsgesellschaft Duisburg-Marxloh mbH, Duisburg, Germany
- Govan Initiative Ltd, Glasgow, United Kingdom
- Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, Stockholm, Sweden
- MKB Fastighets AB, Malmö, Sweden
- Laboratoire de Sociologie du Travail et de l'Environnement Social, Nancy, France
- Association de Prévention Spécialisée "Jeunes et Cité", Laxou, France
- Beleidsondersteunend Ruimtelijk Onderzoek, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Istituto per la Diffusione et la Valorizzazione della Cultura Scientifica, Naples, Italy

Duisburg, the Marxloh district, one of the areas analysed under the ELSES project.
Duisburg, the Marxloh district, one of the areas analysed under the ELSES project.