Delivering Estate Renewal in a Complex World

27 Feb 19 | Andrew Gale

The significance given to resident ballots within the planning and funding processes by recent policy announcements has bought this in to sharp focus.

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Many of the great (and not so great) housing estates across UK cities bear the names of influential politicians and figures of days gone by; like their namesakes some of these have stood the test of time better than others.

It can be all too easy to view housing estates as just ‘places’ rather than ‘communities’, and whilst there is fundamentally a physical aspect, it is becoming more apparent that understanding and providing for the needs of these communities is essential to their success, and in some instances delivering much needed renewal.

The significance given to resident ballots within the planning and funding processes by recent policy announcements has bought this in to sharp focus.

I’ve recently read the excellent book ‘This is London’ by Ben Judah, this seeks to explain just some of the vastly differing communities that make-up our capital city. Judah clearly spent considerable time and effort getting to know his subject, often living amongst the communities which he has written about: sleeping rough with the homeless in the underpasses around Hyde Park; sharing a small over-crowded terrace house in East London with migrant workers; and seeing the relationships between the poor and uber rich in places like Knightsbridge. As a result, he provides a fascinating perspective on the demands, needs and priorities of these communities. What makes the community tick in Peckham, is very different to community life at the White City Estate, and in ways which are not always obvious at first sight.

What struck me most about Judah’s story was not only the unrelenting pace of change in the communities across London – some of which is driven by migration, some by a changing economic role and landscape, and some by the price of property – but the diversity and complexity of how these different communities live, work and play.

Policy-makers and those involved in physical development need to prioritise and take the time to fully understand the specifics of each community that they are working with, and to properly empower those communities to own and believe in renewal projects. In some locations investment in physical improvements will best help deliver renewal, in other areas the investment needs to be focused more on community infrastructure – there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach – and it’s highly likely that the existing communities will know best where efforts need to be focused. A collaborative approach is more likely to engender support and thereby deliver successful renewal.

A name can be a powerful tool. Rather than being a top-down imposition maybe it is time that the name of a new development should better relate to the very community that it helps to build and nurture, a small but significant step in moving towards a collaborative approach to estate renewal.

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