Holding the bar on quality in the recession
9 October 2009
Much can be learnt about economic recovery from regeneration professionals, because they have been working in a permanent, localised recession for most of their careers.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, people struggled because their businesses were seen as risky, in risky markets and in risky locations. The best regeneration practitioners learnt how to turn economics on its head, and the hard lessons learnt have been captured in a CABE essay for the Smith Institute, Regeneration in a downturn.
Each lesson is grounded in practical experience and examples.
Those lessons included ‘finding your talent’: when an economic raison d’etre is lost, the new one needs to fully belong to the place, not borrowed from somewhere else, or sold to you by an investor who will not put down local roots. Leicester realised this by converting an old bus garage into the Leicester Creative Business Depot. Fostering the talents of local artists and creative firms led to investment in restaurants, new homes and businesses.
The essay was written by CABE chief executive Richard Simmons who argues there is a risk in the recession of a dumbed down approach to regenerating our built environment and standards will fall. The essay outlines how and why to hold the quality bar, and draws on his own experience of regeneration in north east London
The East Lancashire housing market renewal pathfinder, for example, has found a new identity through a strategy to create ‘value from a breathtakingly beautiful region of industrial modern people; a natural playground’. The strategy will give it renewed confidence to ride out the downturn because it recognises the place will still be attractive when the recession ends. Many other places could regain their confidence if they recognise and promote what is unique to them.
Another key lesson is to challenge the status quo and change the terms of trade. Coin Street shows how successful regeneration can redefine a market. The accepted wisdom was that nobody would want to live on London’s South Bank and that homes should replace offices. Coin Street is now a thriving community with a sustainable mix of homes and commerce and high quality facilities which are shared with a wide catchment area.
As Simmons points out, the ten examples can easily look obvious in hindsight. But their success relied on imagination, resilience and creativity, all of which are needed to protect quality now.
Regeneration in a downturn is the subject of fringe events hosted by the Smith Institute at the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour party conferences.