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Interview Prof. Alan Murie: regenerating neighbourhoods is a complex process

Alan Murie is Emeritus Professor of Urban and Regional Studies at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, University of Birmingham. EMI interviewed him about the regeneration of neighbourhoods in European cities. Specifically about how cities could go about formulating an effective policy to regenerate deprived neighbourhoods. EMI can help cities to obtain knowledge about the process of setting up an effective policy to regenerate neighbourhoods.

Murie: ´There is a rich experience within European cities about regeneration and increasing competitiveness.  But the transfer of experience is not straight forward. Cities differ too much from one another to just ‘copy’ successful policies from one to another. For example, Amsterdam differs too much from Birmingham to simply copy any effective policy. Cities can learn from each other but first they have to be clear about their own resources, organisational arrangements and problems and about what they want to achieve. ´

Policy makers should be clear about where they want to go

Murie: ´Cities need to be aware of all kind of elements  including  organisational and financial structures, the economy,  housing and the city’s reputation. Moreover, it is essential to appreciate the historical background to better understand why the city has developed as it has. Think of what the legacy is in terms of built environment, governance, educational and other institutions, businesses and skills. The next step in the process of creating policy for cities is to think thoroughly about the vision and the objectives. Changing cities is not a short term project and should refer to more than a couple of short term objectives. Within this set time frame politics and politicians will change. That is the reason why cities should develop cross party approaches. In that way there will be continuity even when political leadership changes. When the vision and intended direction of change are clear and won a broad based local support, reference can be made to the experience of other cities. It will be possible to ask better questions and distinguish what is relevant rather than just be attracted by what looks and sounds good.´

Some advises from my side:

  • In regenerating neighbourhoods a mix of housing types, sizes and tenures is more likely to result in a social mix of inhabitants;
  • Neighbourhoods need access to good employment and good schooling and educational opportunity.  It is not essential to offer all educational and employment facilities in every area. But it is important to make sure there are easy accessible transport facilities that connect the area with other areas that do have such facilities;
  • Aiming for a neighbourhood that is only better than before is not enough. It is important for neighbourhoods to become places that people want to come to and stay in. For example to regenerate an area succesfully the social housing offered must be better than private housing in other areas. Only if  that is the case people will choose to stay even if their incomes rise and they could move away. Improved living conditions or better housing is not enough if the main reason that people stay living in the neighbourhood is because they are too poor to leave or because what the area offers is not good enough to stay when their circumstances change.