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Cities and regions of sustainable communities--new strategies.


Housing policies in the developed world over the last 50 years have largely been concerned with balancing supply and demand and addressing issues of public health. Fifty years ago, faced with rapidly expanding populations and a growing concern for public health, this was wholly appropriate. The direction of travel was identified, a pattern established. The rationale of frameworks and parameters for most decision-making activity within central and local government in planning and housing policy thus became concerned with two areas, the first being the supply of housing in the built form (largely considered in terms of outputs rather than outcomes), and the second being issues of public health and safety, addressed by concentrating on legislation and good practice to tackle problems of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions or construction, and safety regulation.

An historical social policy framework was firmly set, within which a large number of amendments were, over the next five decades, 'bolted on'. Policy for housing, regeneration and planning grew in a reactive manner, becoming highly complex, yet developed within an unchanged framework which still had at its core the 1950s principles of public health and supply of the built form.

However, over that period, and most notably in the last decade, the world--socially, economically and environmentally - has changed dramatically. And the speed of change is accelerating. Individual aspirations and expectations, notions of quality of life, shifts in immigration, changing demography, increased labour mobility and global market effects have radically changed the way we all live and interact with society.

The notion of 'community' is no longer solely spatial but more about lifestyle. Housing is no longer just about a home. In most developed countries housing can also be an investment, a pension, a savings scheme, an asset, an office, an income generator--and, in some cases, a liability. As individual households operating within this sphere, the populace has adapted. However, policy and practice is lagging woefully behind. The 50-year-old policy framework is no longer fit for purpose.

As broader societal changes take root, there is increasing synergy in the body of evidence from North America, Northern Europe, New Zealand and Australia suggesting that

current 'tinkering' with policy frameworks is counterproductive. The evidence suggests that a fundamental reexamination of the framework or principles needed to underpin modern housing policies is required. Clearly, history, politics, culture and policy environments differ significantly between the countries mentioned. However, while these contextual differences are clear, the concepts bear a similarity which allows lessons to be drawn. The effects of the application of outdated policies and practices are strikingly similar. Wider policy organisations such as the OECD, a number of major international institutional investors and a growing number of conglomerates recognise that a different rationale for decision-making is needed.

This paper argues that a new set of strategic urban, housing and planning policies and practices are required to replace outdated policies which are, at best, forming only a partial solution and, at worst, reinforcing some of the problems they set out to address through other adverse social and economic consequences.

Based on an analysis of the literature, dialogue with over 120 expert practitioners and academics, and site visits to over 50 growth and regeneration schemes across North America, Northern Europe, New Zealand and Australia between 2003 and 2006, this paper attempts to summarise in the following sections nine key themes emerging from innovative attempts to modernise policies and practices--some successful, some not--in a range of contexts.

A new rationale for intervention: Value

Individual housing wealth now accounts for a huge and growing proportion of the overall wealth of many of the countries examined. For the majority of the population, investment in housing will be the biggest single investment an individual will make in his or her lifetime. The social and economic causes and effects of this phenomenon involve a complicated interplay between cultural expectations, behaviour and notions of value, and more tangible, but nonetheless complex issues of labour mobility, transport, location advantages, land shortages, planning restrictions, proximity to services, etc. This paper does not attempt to examine the exact nature of the inter-relationships. However, it recognises that housing, planning and land use policies can act as a driver for, and can be affected by, spatial economic value.

Rightly or wrongly, the economic value of housing, property and land in a neighbourhood is seen as an indicator of its success, and interventions can add or subtract value. In simple terms, permission for and construction of a high-security prison on the vacant plot next door to me is unlikely to enhance the value of my house or the land on which it is built, but architecturally-excellent luxury apartments or high-end retail probably will. Similarly, if the vacant plot is being used for fly-tipping and as a place for vagrants to sleep, it is likely to have more of a negative affect on the surrounding values than a well-tended 'greened' plot. Successful public policy and practice on the ground is moving from a passive acknowledgement of this, to active intervention and activity concerned with proactively enhancing and then capturing value for the public good. The effect of this at a micro- and macro-level means that the rationale for policy and practice interventions is increasingly tied up with strategies which place creating and maintaining neighbourhood value as their principal objective. (1) This model therefore requires an asset/investment approach to communities in both growth and regeneration areas rather than the welfare service orientated approach implicit in most existing policies.

Successful Communities are Valuable Ones

Adopting this approach leads to a very simplistic yet fundamental set of principles and 'ingredients' for creating and redeveloping neighbourhoods successfully. Progressive regeneration experts recognise that the economic value of property and land will appreciate (relatively) where 'liveability' indicators score highest.(2) Such indicators vary in comparative importance between neighbourhoods, regions and countries. However, the key common elements affecting property values are:

* school quality and educational attainment;

* access to, and quality of, services (for example public services, retail and leisure facilities, etc.);

* community safety and perception;

* infrastructure (for example transport); and

* aesthetics and the quality of the public realm.

At its simplest, where such indicators score highest, property values will be higher. Property values will depreciate where the indicators score low. While this is intuitively obvious to us as individual house-hunters, strategies, policies and practices that directly focus on improving value are relatively underdeveloped. Thriving communities command high values. Failing communities do not. Direct targeting of areas and assessing the impact economically is a useful measure of the effectiveness of interventions. If values rise, the intervention is working. This approach, whether implicit or explicit, requires a holistic approach to the creation of new communities and to regenerating existing ones. Thus a socio-economic model, rather than a social welfare model, can act as the spatial 'glue' for multi-disciplined public policy interventions.

This model requires a broad 'joined-up' approach which enables clear and objective prioritisation of public funds, informed decision-making on leverage (for example in planning policies) and predictive tools for likely value uplift and gain capture to subsidise sub-market housing and services.

Capturing Value for the Public Good

There are a number of excellent examples of this intrinsic asset/value approach to sustainable development which enable strategic planning and forward-thinking. Strategic public actions such as planning consent can create significant value uplift. There are many examples of the public sector looking to use value uplift mechanisms and interventions to raise capital for re-investment in sub-market activity. For example, in Dublin, the Docklands Development Corporation, at the outset, compulsorily purchased, via an independent development vehicle, a good deal of brownfield land at a very low economic value. It then invested heavily in excellent transport infrastructure and services and award-winning public realm projects. This, coupled with iconic, publicly-funded catalytic buildings and structures, boosted investor confidence. Land values rose enormously and the gains to the Corporation on disposal of the land were considerably in excess of the loans to fund the upfront remedial and infrastructure costs. Surpluses were re-invested in the public realm, schools and social housing. Similar examples can be found in the Eastern Docks in Amsterdam, the West Philadelphia Initiative in the USA and the Gorbals and Crown Street in Glasgow.

Of course it would be true to say that simple economics give only a partial picture of the success of a community. Some of the best examples of using the 'creating/maintaining value' rationale include measurements of the impact value of policy intervention. Impact value measurements include improvements in individual household income, lower rates of joblessness, higher levels of school attainment and reduction in the fear of crime. There are also some promising initiatives to measure changes in young people's self-esteem and quality of life (such as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUDD) evaluations of the HOPE VI regeneration initiative (3)).

Understanding Subsidiarity: Cities of Neighbourhoods

There is a developing understanding of issues around critical mass in housing markets. A growing body of evidence suggests that a greater understanding is required between national housing policies as they relate to regions, sub-regions, cities, and down to neighbourhoods. For example, policy interventions currently available to UK regional housing boards, regional planning bodies and regional development agencies, in theory, enable a rational cascade and subsidiarity of policies and funding. However, the reality is that, at a neighbourhood level, micro-economics, stigma and reputation--and thus demand and supply--shift far faster than policy and funding decisions.

Germany, the US and the UK are among many countries that have experienced rapid area decline which has 'spread' citywide following the collapse of heavy industry and mine closures. These shifts often bear little relationship to the quality, standard or supply in housing as a unit of accommodation per se, but are more often related to economic factors, population growth, migration, immigration, population decline (especially in post-heavy-industry areas) and demographic shifts. While the top-down approach to housing policy and strategies is undoubtedly desirable and necessary, in prioritising interventions account must be taken of the neighbourhood effect- i.e. the impact of spatial concentrations of poor households--and the speed at which neighbourhood decline can spread to surrounding neighbourhoods. Once a critical mass of declining neighbourhoods is reached, the city, sub-region or even the region as a whole can be severely, adversely affected. This requires recognition of the need for policy application to be flexible and 'fleet of foot', and recognition of the need for change in the way that neighbourhoods are prioritised for intervention.

Strategic, Preventative Neighbourhood Analysis: Regeneration 'Triage'

Common experience shows that, historically, the worst neighbourhoods got--and continue to get--the majority of public spending attention. 'Worst-first' strategies and policies generally focus around physical remediation and attempts to improve the social capital existing in the area. There is growing consensus that these approaches have largely failed and that significant resources have been expended on them to no real long-term benefit in the neighbourhoods concerned. Experience is teaching us that the sheer weight of resources required and the long timescales involved in dealing with the very worst neighbourhoods often lead to policy-makers 'taking their eye off the ball' of vulnerable neighbouring areas, which, with resources deflected to the worst areas, in a very short space of time can decline to the extent that their problems come to match those of the worst. This 'infection' effect is spurring some funding organisations/cities/states to re-evaluate notions of worst-first policies.

Identification of neighbourhood 'tipping points' is currently preoccupying a plethora of academics and professionals in a number of countries, including Canada (4) and the UK. Recent work by Meen et al. (5) examining economic household segregation in the UK suggests that early identification of vulnerable communities could potentially lead to fewer calls on overstretched public funds. Meen et al. argue that there comes a point--the 'tipping point'--beyond which the risk associated with investment is judged too great by private sector investors. Once the threshold is reached, private sector investors become extremely cautious, and only when substantial sums have been invested by the public sector will they reconsider. However, academic and anecdotal evidence from large-scale private sector investors and small-scale speculative investors suggests that other, non-financial 'public sector' displays of confidence in an area can have a confidence-building effect for investors. In some UK cities that are blighted by large-scale household abandonment, it is the case that policy announcements and intentions, problem-solving task forces and other non-financial initiatives from government have prompted speculative investment and inspired investor confidence in unexpected, yet positive directions. (6) However, the longer-term effects are as yet unknown in these areas, and so in general terms the sustainable solution must be to attract private sector investment before the critical tipping points are reached--i.e. to take preventative action. This will, in theory, therefore lead to fewer calls on public funds for costly 'curative' measures.

There are some notable examples of successful intervention strategies which prioritise vulnerable areas or neighbourhoods on the cusp of decline or improvement, including the neighbourhoods project in Washington DC (7) and the Pennsylvania project spearheaded by the University of Pennsylvania. (8) They generally involve strategic mapping of an area's or a city's neighbourhoods, diagnostics, and subsequent interventions necessary to stabilise, enhance or maintain the market. In most cases the city planning authority has strategic responsibility for this proactive intervention strategy and will work strategically with national, state and community organisations and the private sector to encourage the necessary interventions.

In many large-area regeneration projects, attempts are made to concentrate efforts where the market is strong and build out into areas of weakness, rather than focusing exclusively on weak-area markets. Preventative measures are seen to be more cost-effective and successful in the longer term. Adopting this sort of approach, however, accepts that the worst neighbourhoods will, at least in the short term, continue to decline. But it will, however, create a stronger demand for their own replacement--and in the longer term will make them attractive to private sector investors, as strong neighbouring markets move out into previously unpopular neighbourhoods and as strategic decisions regarding leverage and interventions facilitate knock-on or ripple-out effects.

Decision Support Tools: the Use of Data in Decision-Making

Understanding, predicting and manipulating markets as described above requires a radical shift in the tools or processes for supporting housing policies and strategies. Hitherto, national and regional strategies have been largely dependent on numbers in need (as distinct from demand) and on social welfare ideologies rather than market knowledge. However, data collection, analysis and geographical information systems and mapping are becoming increasingly sophisticated. There is a growing body of work in this area and some promising models for the use of such information to guide strategic planning. For example, in the Neighbourhoods strategy in Washington DC, detailed analysis of each of the city's 39 neighbourhoods was used both to support detailed infrastructure planning and also to create an evidence base for community involvement and community partnership with the local authority. Mapping markets and predicting market imbalance in individual neighbourhoods, in clusters of neighbourhoods and at a city-wide level is seen as a vital tool for implementing future policies.

Some countries are significantly more advanced in the use of decision support tools than others, and while a lot of this work is clearly of advantage in areas of weaker markets, such as the UK's Housing Market Renewal programme pathfinders and the US's weak markets in the 'rust belt', there is significant potential for this sort of approach to be applied in high-value, high-demand areas to address pockets of concentrated deprivation and to support evidence-based resource allocation by local authorities and other funders.

Social and Economically Mixed and Balanced Communities

In many countries concentrations of disadvantage is the big policy issue. It is increasingly clear that concentrations of disadvantage or deprivation magnify problems associated with individual or household poverty. Being poor is bad enough, but being poor and living with other poor households in spatial concentrations greatly exacerbates problems. This 'neighbourhood effect' is now well documented (9) and has been shown to significantly increase the likelihood that household members will, for example, be a victim of a crime, suffer from heightened fear of crime, have disproportionately lower educational attainment among existing, second and third generations, suffer higher levels of mental and physical ill-health, suffer greater morbidity, enjoy lower expectations and life-chances and self-esteem, and so on. The evidence is clear: concentrating deprivation massively magnifies the effects of individual poverty, and increasing concentration of deprivation corresponds directly with neighbourhood decline and decreasing property and land values as described above. Although we are only beginning to understand what does work, the evidence about what doesn't--spatial concentrations of poverty--is clear.

The micro-economic effects are common. Low local collective spending power fails to attract new or maintain existing local businesses, public banking institutions, and retail and leisure services. At the extreme, boarded-up vacant commercial and residential premises are a stark visual symptom. A low-economy neighbourhood will be unattractive to new business, and the employment opportunities that come with them will thus be lost. As services decline, those with choice leave in pursuit of more attractive and better-served areas. The vacant homes and businesses are unattractive to all but the vulnerable and those without choice. The area becomes stigmatised. The cycle is often rapid and always self-reinforcing.

A desire to remove the prime cause of neighbourhood decay has in the most severe cases led to interventions which literally involve erasing what was there before and starting again. Deconcentrating deprivation in some of the worst-affected areas usually means some degree of existing community dispersal, combined with action to attract those with higher incomes to live in the 'improved' neighbourhood. Re-housing, decanting, disrupting and dispersal of the existing community is often the contentious issue. However, in many cases households are only too glad of an offer of an alternative place to live. In some cases, less than half have such a strong attachment to an area that they would wish to return after renewal. (10)

Attracting households with choice--middle-income households and their spending power--is increasingly seen as essential to successful preventative and curative neighbourhood policies. Exemplar policies and practices therefore seek to provide mixed-income communities, often, but not always, by providing or facilitating a mix of tenures. Planning policies in many developed countries, but most notably in the Netherlands, parts of the US and the UK, now require new communities to contain a mix of tenures. Similarly, where state finances are involved in regeneration schemes, there are many examples in which mixed-communities objectives are a prerequisite when demolishing existing single-tenure public housing 'sink' estates prior to regeneration (for example HOPE VI in the USA (3)).

For neighbourhoods on the cusp of decline, forward-thinking policies are designed to proactively encourage a population with a mix of incomes--attracting higher-income households to live in existing neighbourhoods by improving the quality of the services demanded by this group and/or sometimes by offering householder incentives like soft loans for deposits, discount-rated mortgages, or 'social home-buy' to help persuade residents against moving on when their circumstances and choices improve.

Excellent preventative policies for poverty deconcentration are emerging where alternate dwellings becoming vacant in mono-tenure, vulnerable, social housing schemes are sold on the open market, in order to attract higher-income households. Receipts are recycled for more new 'social' or shared-equity housing elsewhere in owner-occupied areas or to fund neighbourhood improvements aimed at enhancing attractiveness and values (for example the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust's SAVE (Selling Alternate Vacants on Estates) scheme in York (11) and Sheffield City Council's Homesteading Scheme).

Private and Social Housing--Not Mutually Exclusive

It is the subject of increasing debate whether past 'welfarist', needs-based approaches to planning and provision of housing for those whom the market affords no or limited access are socially and economically unsustainable in the long term. Ultimately, such needs-based approaches, coupled with decreasing resources, result in rationing of scarce resources so that only the very vulnerable and most needy receive assistance. Many argue that this creates (often intergenerational) welfare dependency and instead of supporting the most vulnerable entrenches them in poverty.

In social housing terms, it could be argued that this is unsustainable because most policies and delivery approaches have taken an 'industrial view' which has lead to a 'retail' relationship between the housing provider and the householder. Such approaches, certainly in the supply of social housing, generally have led to a supply outcome that concentrates disadvantage--with the social, economic and health inequalities which result, over and above those posed by the individual's circumstances. This approach is largely borne out of a reluctance to accept that 'the market', far from prohibiting affordable housing, can, by calculated timely intervention, actually enable affordable housing. The use of section 106 'planning obligation' agreements in the UK, for example, is a successful attempt to capture some of the economic gain from planning consent for use in providing social housing--public policy 'playing the market' to achieve social objectives. Recent evaluation of this policy by Whitehead et al. (12) shows that this method is now responsible for around half of the total provision of affordable/social housing in the UK.

Modern approaches to urban policy require an understanding of housing in its broader social and economic context, and an understanding of housing markets at the micro- and macroeconomic level. The 'building and maintaining sustainable, thriving communities' approach--as opposed to the 'social housing approach'--requires a sophisticated level of understanding of housing market economics, which is necessary to exploit 'the market' to the advantage of those with no or limited access to markets--i.e. to internalise externalities.

There are many excellent examples where public authorities use their combined powers--most notably planning, housing and economic development--to massive socio-economic advantage. The disposal or leverage of receipts/assets can then be used to subsidise sub-market activity (as described in the examples above). However, the challenge is to plan interventions deliberately with the aim of enhancing value, and then to capture the increased land and property value. Large-scale private institutional investors--certainly in the commercial property sector--operate precisely in this way. Although inspiring examples do exist, calculated speculative land acquisition and disposal techniques benefiting from, and capturing, enhanced values in property and land are currently relatively unsophisticated and under-utilised by public sector agencies.

There is great potential to use receipts from this sort of activity to subsidise a range of 'products' through both revenue (housing benefit, tax relief and vouchers) and capital (Homebuy or Housing Association Grant) support, to ensure that successful high-value areas can still be accessed by those needing 'sub-market' housing and services.

It is worth noting that in some of the more successful examples of this kind of 'speculative gain for public good' activity, a common regret of the leaders of such schemes is that they did not plan more of this sort of activity at the outset. Many had found that success had become 'the enemy of the good'--i.e. that failure to anticipate the success of their scheme had meant that values of land and property had risen so much that lower-income renters and owners were priced out of the area.

In other areas, solutions to this problem had been found--such as retaining ownership of parcels of land and property, and leasing arrangements or 'buy-back' covenants.

The Importance of Neighbourhood Schools

As individual families looking for a home, we intrinsically understand that a good-quality school makes a neighbourhood attractive--and therefore, as we have discussed above, more valuable. Planning and housing policy has forgotten the fact that good schools make for attractive neighbourhoods.

New studies show a direct correlation between good or improved school attainment and high or increasing property values. (13) In Reading in the UK, Cheshire (14) found that across the city the variant in house prices could be 30 per cent. However, the impact of living in a neighbourhood with a school in categories rated 'amongst the best' to 'the best' increased house values, like for like, by a staggering 188 per cent.

Successful regeneration projects whose objective is to attract households with choice recognise that by far the most important service improvement is in the provision, perception, and performance of schools.

What is significant in the more successful regeneration schemes are the practical projects and approaches which see schools as the lynch-pin of neighbourhood transformation. At the extreme end, school demolition and re-provision in a different location has been seen as necessary. Such work would be scheduled and gap-funded before any other work takes place. Improved performance in itself is often not enough, and a dramatic physical statement of change alongside changes in staff, governance and school performance is sometimes seen as essential to remove the stigma attached to the worst-performing schools.

The Importance of the Public Realm

The weight of attention being given to efforts to enhance and maintain the public realm in successful regeneration schemes is worthy of special mention. The quality of the public realm is extremely important to the perceptions and behaviour of existing and potential new residents of many cities and its neighbourhoods. From 'virtually instant' graffiti/litter removal in Liverpool 8 in the UK and in Pennsylvania, to Mayor Daley's 'city beautification' policy, implemented right through to the downtown neighbourhoods of Chicago, such policies recognise that the aesthetic impact and the 'sense of order' created by an enhanced, well-maintained public realm has an enormous effect on how the neighbourhood and city is viewed, on fear of crime and, interestingly, on reducing anti-social behaviour. Just as the beneficial effects on hospital patients' recovery rates when their beds allow a view to a green space are becoming recognised, we are coming to understand the effect on 'healthy neighbourhoods' of a good-quality public realm. (15)

A 'sense of the normative' resulting from such renovation and maintenance works in Marseille, for example, was believed to be responsible for increases in civic pride and civic engagement and reductions in both the fear of crime and crime itself. The evidence suggests that well-maintained places attract and retain people with choice both to live there and visit, thus attracting and retaining business and retail activity, and in turn reinforcing and enhancing value.

The ability to collect taxes locally, especially if they are calculated on values, creates a sustainable economic base for such measures.

Risk, Leadership, Accountability and Skills

There is a need for, and some moves towards, change in the policy climate regarding risk, leadership, accountability and skills.


Risk-taking in the UK public sector and in other developed countries has not been encouraged and, certainly over the last decade, risk management has become confused with risk aversion. But things are changing in some of the UK's core cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle. Risks are being taken, failing economies are being turned around, and rising stars and leaders are emerging. In much of Europe and North America, the same patterns can be seen. A common theme of successful interventions is an appetite for risk-taking and management.

However, in the public sector generally, an unwillingness to take risks regularly results in the failure of schemes--often expensive failure. There is a growing consensus that in a number of situations an over-emphasis on accountability, audits, performance indicators and various other policing methods and measurements can be damaging to creativity and 'corporate confidence'. While there is recognition that a lack of accountability structures can create 'policy by press release', the converse can create corporate risk-aversion, where the organisation and individuals within it do not have the confidence to take the leaps of faith so often required in bold strategies.

The result is 'tinkering' with policies, fear of change, re-active policies and procedures, and curative--and therefore costly and often ineffective--interventions. Progressive organisational structures which can deliver pro-active visionary strategies are ones which endeavour to be objective-focused and promote creativity within enabling risk management frameworks. Demonstrating accountability should not be an end in itself.

The UK's current policy climate of enabling and facilitating 'pathfinders' promotes environments for, and legitimises, experimentation. However, without the necessary realignments of processes (as described below) and freedoms to create new processes and checks and balances (such as in Aberdeen's new neighbourhood devolvement initiative), such initiatives may not reach their full potential.

But while change is slowly occurring in the UK and in some European and North American cities, it has often been a result of having alternatives forced on policy-makers by circumstances; quite literally a 'change or die' scenario. While this is an unfortunate driver for change, it does provide the imperative--and some inspiring examples as a result. The danger for countries, regions, or states that do not face such stark dilemmas is that they become complacent where the drivers for change are not so apparent.


An examination of examples of strong city-regional growth strategies, and even of success in business growth, shows that their leaders and leading organisations have common characteristics--the first of which is the focus and weight given to the interplay between strategic objectives and process.

The least successful organisations are those which are driven by process, not by objectives. In this scenario the objective is tailored or changed to fit existing structures and processes. This relationship becomes an uneasy one, and the 'tail wags the dog'. The objective is never fully achieved, but the process machine, although largely intact, becomes disengaged and demotivated as it cannot reconcile the minor changes to its operation when the final objective is not reached, or reached only partially. Conversely, the most successful organisations are those which are able to maintain an objective-focused approach and re-orientate process to meet the objectives. This can often require a complete overhaul of the machine--dismantling and reconstruction--as seen in, for example, Rotterdam, Aberdeen, Washington DC and Liverpool. Here, local government departments--their budgets and staffing--were radically re-aligned towards a new objective. New skill sets and knowledge bases were prioritised in recruitment and retention themes, and a completely re-designed modus operandi was put in place to actively focus on the objectives.


The evidence from the examples of initiatives in the countries examined suggests there is a need for a modernisation of policies and practices, and academies are now being established in the UK and elsewhere to respond to a requirement for a new set of skills (for example, the Academy for Sustainable Communities in Leeds and the Centre for Urban Redevelopment Excellence at the University of Pennsylvania).

A number of key thinkers in the field argue that the welfarist, worst-first, house-the-poor, retail-relationship-orientated housing, planning and urban practitioner is a contributor to the problem and will largely become redundant in the future. It is becoming increasingly recognised that in order to provide assistance to low- to moderate-income households, to deconcentrate poverty and thereby reduce social, economic and health inequalities, and to create vibrant successful, sustainable communities, the public authority mind-set and culture must adapt to the need to gain expertise in harnessing and exploiting the powers of the market to the advantage of public services and subsidies. This requires a degree of risk-taking, the skills of which will need to be taught.

Immigration, Growth and Local Economies

De-industrialisation in a global economy, changing patterns of labour mobility and advances in technology create the ingredients for imbalances in a city or region's skills/labour force, which can, in turn, have the effect of population leak, or 'skills flight'. However, there seems to be growing evidence that there is a correlation between regions which have positively embraced and actively attracted immigrants and the successful transformation of failing economies. In some instances this is leading to regional 'competitiveness' for certain immigrant groups, especially those that are young, skilled and 'transformation-entrepreneurial'.

Statistically, evidence from the UK suggests that the children of immigrants are often high achievers--in many London boroughs, immigrant intake has significantly boosted the overall educational attainment of many previously failing schools.

In housing market terms, young immigrants are often categorised alongside young creative types and gay markets in the 'risk-oblivious' sector. This group is more attracted than others to previously run-down inner city areas, recently partially regenerated and still 'fragile'. Groups known as the 'risk oblivious' generally contain people who have wealth, are entrepreneurial, and can often attract ethnic tourism (for example in certain areas of Minneapolis-St Paul in the US). There is evidence to suggest that cities and sub-regions which have actively sought to attract such groups have fared better than their counterparts and have escaped the worst impacts of urban sprawl and the 'city-doughnut' effect. However, where careful planning and community development work has been absent, the outcomes of these policies have been at best questionable. Pro-active planning and development work is necessary to ensure that these new communities maximise their potential and positively contribute to--and, in many cases, critically support or reverse the trends in--weaker markets at both neighbourhood, city and sub-regional level.


In the early years of the new millennium, as individuals and communities we are beginning to think and act in a radically different way about where and how we live, work and play. Information technology, communications, labour mobility and the effects of living in a global economy are propelling individuals at breakneck speed through lifestyle changes. We are only beginning to understand what these changes mean in relation to the ways in which individuals interact socially and economically with housing and the community. To many, housing is a commodity, an investment, an asset lever and often, but seldom now exclusively, a home. In terms of communities, research shows that we are now much more likely to view ourselves, socially, as members of 'lifestyle communities' rather than spatial ones.

Our housing, planning and communities policies are struggling to catch up with these changes, let alone get ahead; and public policy--much of which is based on a 1950s 'welfare' model--is often seen to be resisting or endeavouring to counteract such societal changes. Current policy fails to recognise the continuum of, and relationships between, different forms, tenures, markets and supply of--and demand for--housing. This paper argues that there is now a body of strong evidence--drawn from academic studies and practical experience in a number of developed countries--to suggest that public policy needs to move from a welfarist model to a socio-economic one, with a new, market-informed framework to create and maintain successful, inclusive, sustainable communities.


The TCPA would like to thank English Partnership for sponsorship of this Tomorrow Series paper.


(1) D. Maclennan and J. Cowans: Capturing Values; Creating Communities. T&CP Tomorrow Series Paper 1. TCPA, London, 2005 (Also in Town & Country Planning, 2005, vol. 75, Nov.)

(2) Investing in Regeneration. English Partnerships, London, 2005

(3) Ongoing evaluation--see, for example, Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Demonstration Program: Interim Impacts Evaluation. US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, DC, USA, 2003; and A Decade of HOPE VI: Research Findings and Policy Challenges. Urban Institute/Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, USA, 2004

(4) S. Pomeroy: Rethinking Neighbourhood Renewal: Review of the US Experience and Possible Lessons for Canada. Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Ottawa, Canada, 2006

(5) G. Meen, K. Gibb, J. Goody, T. McGrath and J. McKinnon: Economic Segregation in England: Causes, Consequences and Policy. Policy Press, Bristol, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2005

(6) I. Cole, G. Gidley, C. Ritchie, D. Simpson and B. Wishart: Creating Communities or Welfare Housing? Chartered Institute of Housing/Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York, 1996

(7) See ('Neighborhood Planning' section)

(8) See the University of Pennsylvania Centre for Revitalisation Excellence website at

(9) See, for example, I. Cole et al.: Creating Communities or Welfare Housing?; (6) and S. Fitzpatrick: 'Poverty and place: policies for tomorrow'. Joseph Rowntree Foundation Centenary Lecture, 2004

(10) R. Lupton: Poverty Street: The Dynamics of Neighbourhood Decline and Renewal. The Policy Press, Bristol, 2003

(11) G. Martin and J. Watkinson: Rebalancing Communities: Introducing Mixed Incomes into Existing Rented Housing Estates. York Publishing Services, York, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2003

(12) S. Monk, 1-. Crook, D. Lister, R. Lovatt, A. Ni Luanaigh, S. Rowley and C. Whitehead: Delivering Affordable Housing through Section 106: Outputs and Outcomes. York Publishing Services, York, 2006, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

(13) See R. Lupton, E. Silverman and A. Fenton: A Good Place for Children? Attracting and Retaining Families in Inner Urban Mixed Income Communities. Chartered Institute of Housing, Coventry, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2006

(14) P. Cheshire: Unpriced Regulatory Risk and the Competition of Rules: Unconsidered Implications of Land Use Planning. Research Paper in Environmental and Spatial Analysis 103. London School of Economics, London, 2005

(15) Start with the Park: Creating Sustainable Urban Green Spaces in Areas of Housing Growth and Renewal. CABE, London, 2005

Julie Cowans divides her time between being Special Advisor (Urban Policy and Sustainable Communities) to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and working as a freelance consultant to UK and international governments and private sector investors. She is a Trustee of the TCPA. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and not of any institution person or organisation referred to.
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Author:Cowans, Julie
Publication:Town and Country Planning
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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