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Regenerating the UK’s post-industrial cities 

Professor Steffen Lehmann, director of the Cluster for Sustainable Cities, University of Portsmouth.

Cities are never finished objects, but always in transformation. Urbanisation is one of the defining processes of contemporary times and a paradigm shift in urban thinking is now happening in the UK, where cities become regenerated urban laboratories. This new paradigm highlights participatory planning processes, higher densities and new ways of greening and re-naturing cities, combined with building socially-inclusive public space. It is time to rethink and regenerate the UK’s cities for the age of global warming.  

Cities in the UK and in other countries are facing huge challenges and one answer to regeneration lies in closer collaboration between city leaders, industry and communities with universities. The complex challenges posed by urbanisation and development cannot be solved by one discipline in isolation. Most of the time UK cities do not need spectacular change or short-term vanity projects, but instead require more modest and careful step-by-step incremental regeneration strategies that get the best out of what we already have and deliver long-term societal benefits. 

To achieve all this, our collaborative networks and partnerships are crucial, including closer collaboration between all levels of government, communities, the private sector and academia, to enable interconnected peer-to-peer learning networks and better information and knowledge sharing. Architects are slowly regaining their interest in urbanism and strategic urban thinking about future neighbourhoods and what the city might look and feel like. 

What is needed are optimistic, high-level guiding strategies as principles of good urbanism which we think will be a solid basis for any urban regeneration project. This will be the topic of the 2018 CIRIA Annual Debate

There are plenty of obstacles in the complex process, funding is limited and the public policy side is not always supportive of urban transformation and regeneration. In addition, most urban policies in the UK are now over 15 or 20 years old, meaning they were formulated pre-climate change impact awareness and are often ill-informed. Today, we know much more about the causes of urban decline, have new models of urbanisation and with the help of the internet can rapidly collect the required reliable data that is required for better decision making. This means that there is now a need to update urban policies on this new, integrated and evidence-based understanding. As Badiou put it, “change is the law of the world; the absence of change is death. When we think, we think change” (in: Introduction to the Philosophical Concept of Change, 2012). 

Professor Steffen Lehmann will provide a keynote address at the CIRIA Annual Debate 2018. The debate will discuss the benefits and recent trends in urban regeneration of UK cities. 

Register to attend the CIRIA Annual Debate 2018 on 21 June 2018 at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London.