This article is the second of a series of insights about Cities of Tomorrow, which is exploring topics such as urban development, innovation districts’ transformation and the future of cities.
As urban populations are growing at a high pace, cities tend to face new challenges. A common urban issue is the rise of abandoned, underutilised spaces and neighbourhoods. Every metropolitan city features this kind of areas and could benefit from dramatic improvements on an urban development level.
The most efficient way to tackle these kinds of challenges is urban renewal: revitalising places and turning them into spaces where people can live, work and connect; spaces that are functional and enjoyable for citizens. The desire to be part of an environment that engages them on a personal, social and professional level is extremely strong. Citizens are looking for a sense of belonging, safety, wellbeing and global connectedness. It is necessary to understand that a genuine connection between people and spaces can positively contribute to the socio-economic development of cities. Urban regeneration projects are necessary for a sustainable development of our cities and for the process of placemaking, which leverages local assets to improve people’s wellbeing and happiness.
Urban renewal refers to the unified processes that, at different levels, are necessary to upgrade the physical structure of a city, provide solutions for local issues, create professional and social opportunities, improve the economic situation of the area and, last but not least, tackle climate change and address sustainability. The terms “urban regeneration”, “urban revitalisation” and “urban renewal” often overlap throughout current literature.
Urban renewal expresses a common vision and involves several aspects, from the reconstruction or repurposing of the metropolitan environment, the architectural redesign, to the placemaking and social layer. Moreover, it also helps to develop an overarching definition of the city’s identity. In order to start an urban renewal project, it is necessary to assess the public and private players involved in the development and financing. Local governments and the public sector are usually the ones setting up the project, but rarely all the required resources are being supplied by themselves. Nevertheless, even if a government is willing to fully finance urban renewal, communities as well as local businesses are needed to ensure the sustainability of regeneration efforts. Therefore, the participation of the private sector is important and inevitable for the success of any urban area in need of a revitalisation.
Urban renewal has been in practice for years, with cities remodelling themselves in order to build bigger highways, motorways and transit networks, as well as modern housing districts, industrial sites and business centres. All these work together and lead to a healthier world.
Revitalisation projects for developing urban areas focus more on sustaining viable and healthy spaces by solving problems of industrial cities through renovations and rebranding. The economical advantages of urban redevelopment projects are particularly attention-grabbing for investors around the world. At the current pace in which populations are growing, such projects around the world have great benefits as they create job opportunities and boost people’s quality of life. Additionally, urban renewal also contributes to urban life by promoting inclusivity, strengthening the community and accelerating the modernisation process of city centres.
When it comes to urban renewal, SPX believes both the public and private sector must work together to adopt an inclusive and innovative approach to urban regeneration projects, only then cities can create a strong culture of transformation. Innovation must be at the heart of designing functional spaces that not only fit into neighbourhoods, but also uplift them. Furthermore, to guarantee the success of urban renewal projects, it is imperative to insert the concept of collective ownership into residents' minds so that they develop a genuine interest in public spaces and facilities, making use of the structure and preserving it as well. Innovative strategies of communication and community bonding are at the core of connecting people to urban spaces and to each other. This is SPX’s favourite aspect of urban regeneration.
One of the latest projects we have been part of is directly connected to urban regeneration in Amsterdam: OurDomain South East by Greystar NL. The new building recently opened its doors to the first residents and 25 percent of accommodations were made available with priority to young professionals from Amsterdam Southeast and employees of the hospital Amsterdam UMC. The new shared living concept brought modernisation and new opportunities to the district of Amstel III, as part of the extensive transformation of the area into a sustainable living and working location.
The history of France on urban regeneration began in the early 80’s when the Nation started a decentralisation process and local authorities had more power for creating and implementing novel planning strategies to solve urban challenges. The current renewal programmes need to meet general planning guidelines, which are characterised by a certain elasticity, enabling citizens to provide their feedback.
Urban renewal projects in Europe are commonly developed in cities that have a problem with high density population. French cities nowadays are distinguished by a high density compared to other countries with the same population. Taking Paris as an example, the average population is circa 20.300 inhabitants per square kilometer, making it the densest city in Europe.
The largest post-industrial urban renewal project in Europe is Lyon’s Confluence neighbourhood. Until 2009, the district was mainly occupied by the Perrache market-station, and by wasteland. The main idea behind the plan was to double the size of Lyon's city centre between the Rhône and Saône rivers. The 150-hectare district of Confluence now features impressive modern architecture and innovative redesign concepts, including luxury apartments, working spaces, and parks, all built looking over the River of Saone. Moreover, social events and exhibitions of contemporary art are displayed in the building of La Sucrière. A shopping mall and smaller shops can be found around the area, as well as elegant bars and bistros embellishing the streets of Lyon. The project is led by a local public redevelopment company, Maison de La Confluence.
The history of the United Kingdom in urban regeneration programmes starts with the collapse of Britain's industrial and manufacturing economy which left, as a result, several inner-cities suffering from unemployment. Houses were neglected and many were socially excluded from wealthier areas. The implementation of urban renewal projects is the attempt to reverse that decline by improving both the physical structure, but also the economy. After an initial round of financing from the State, the main focus of those kinds of projects shifted into raising prime private investments.
Over the past 20 years, projects tended to focus first on the physical renewal of districts through housing construction, while attempting to stimulate social and economic regeneration in a later phase. Recently, two core renewal funds have been established within the UK: the “New Deal for Communities” and the “Neighbourhood Renewal Fund” (NRF). Therefore, the focus has now switched to local communities and placemaking.
One of the biggest regeneration projects in Europe is undergoing in Nottingham with the name ‘Southern Gateway’ has the main scope to create new job opportunities and refresh this part of the city. An £250 million regeneration project starts from the train station and the redeveloped Broadmarsh shopping centre and the creation of a new business district within this area being desperately in need of redevelopment. The constructions started in 2018 and the project is expected to be delivered by next year. Streets will be pedestrianised, new cafes and bars will open, an arts centre will be established, with the purpose of giving the area a more pleasant and vivid atmosphere. An important part of the regeneration is represented by the building of the City Hub Campus, in the abandoned Canal Street. The campus will create an environment for college students, fully equipped with community facilities and resources to attract younger generations.
Italy occupies a particular position for urban revitalisation in Europe as the landscape of most of the Italian cities is covered by its great historical richness. Therefore, urban planners are required to adopt solutions that are not harming in any way the natural landscape or historical areas, while at the same time bringing innovation to revitalise the area.
Renewal programmes seek to improve the local identity, quality of life and the functionality of neighbourhoods. In the last ten years the quality of life has been improving in multiple Italian cities as suburban areas that were previously abandoned are now in high demand due to regeneration projects that created better conditions of living.
In the last few years, Milan has experienced an impressive transformation within its urban environment. Famous architects, urban planners and developers from all around the world worked together on various projects to revitalise underutilised areas, create opportunities and make the city more attractive. The two major city developments are represented by CityLife, which will soon become the biggest shopping district in Italy, and the business district of Porta Nuova, which won Best Urban Regeneration Project in 2018. Another urban development to mention, which has been crucial for art and culture on an international level, is OMA’s project for Fondazione Prada.
The Netherlands stands out as a country that historically faced a lot of difficulties within its urban framework. Especially during World War II, a large part of the country was bombed and destroyed significantly, with Rotterdam being the biggest victim. In response to that, the Dutch government has taken quick and serious decisions for the reconstruction and renewal of these areas.
Nowadays, renewal projects in Europe focus more on connecting people with spaces and revitalising neighbourhoods. New lands have also been created (like Ijburg in Amsterdam) due to the population’s growth and the housing shortage. The projects usually include numerous new apartments, shops, restaurants and working spaces ready to welcome more people. Lastly, government agencies, welfare organisations and housing corporations are often organising activities and initiatives in the neighbourhoods to create a sense of social inclusion and build local communities.
Rotterdam has recently announced a mass architectural renewal plan and an investment of €233 million divided among seven different projects to improve the sustainability of the city by planting trees. With the slogan ‘Rotterdam, onwards stronger’ the city aims to leave behind the legacy of the ‘concrete nightmare’, counter the impact that coronavirus left, embrace greenness and continue to improve the quality of life, as well as the attractiveness of the city. Moreover, playgrounds and sports fields will also be developed. The city of Rotterdam declared that the project which is planned to be completed in ten years, but the initial renders have already been published.
Cities often hide treasures in abandoned areas, unknown places that hold undiscovered beauty and display a country's cultural intrinsic identity. Urban renewal projects preserve the uniqueness of a city’s character and create numerous opportunities for individuals, transforming living experiences and forming united communities. The notable European renewal programmes presented are currently playing a key role in building the cities of tomorrow, our future living.
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