Transforming disadvantaged places: effective strategies for places and people

The JRF have produced a précis of the evidence around regeneration.

Their analysis starts from the fact that poverty remains geographically concentrated, as it has since the 1970s, but in London and the South East they say:

Average households (neither poor nor wealthy) have been diminishing in number and gradually disappearing…

I don’t know whether you’ll find this obvious or not, but they say that:

Poverty rates for people living in social housing remain double those of the population as a whole, reflecting the fact that only one-third of tenants are in full-time work, and fewer than half have any paid work.

This has become more concentrated in the last 20 years – in part I’d guess as a result of right-to-buy – and argue that the separation of housing and employment policy is critical to these outcomes. As they point out employment policy has tended to be focused on individuals and seek to assist:

people with the transition into work regardless of the particularities of place which may affect their ability and willingness to seek employment…

Evidence from the JRF research suggests that poverty and disadvantage are mediated by place, and that places are affected by the poverty or otherwise of their inhabitants. It would logically follow that policies which dissociate people from places and the impacts of place may be less effective.

Meanwhile economic development strategies tend to be place based, trying to bring inward investment into particular areas and “geographical variations in labour demand remain critical to the prospects of areas of economic decline.” Which leads the paper to argue for:

robust local understanding of how wider spatial relationships operate within regional economies when designing regeneration strategies, and to match them with appropriate transport strategies.

But devising policy and not trying to factor in a bit about how people react is likely to be less effective. As I’m sure we all know (or at least those of us with Love Brockley/Deptford/Lewisham/Catford etc badges), people form strong bonds to place which have both positive and negative possibilities. Positively we have friendships which offer social support when we need it – childcare, feeding the cat, picking the kids up from school etc. – but place may also constrain:

people’s own ambitions for themselves, largely because of restricted social networks which may mean less contact with broader opportunities.

It looks as if some of these messages are sinking in, or at least there are policy responses that try to address people and place in an integrated way:

The most interesting aspect of the recent policy emphasis on tackling the problems of multiply-deprived areas is the integrated approach that has been adopted, aiming to address both people and place transformation through programmes like the New Deal for Communities (NDC) partnerships in England and the Communities First programme in Wales.

That said it still appears that addressing place issues has proved to be easier than people based outcomes. However, they point out that having an impact in one area has knock on effects:

Statistically strong and positive relationships have been identified in the following domains:

  • as housing and the physical environment improves,crime rates reduce;
  • in areas where people feel more of a part of their community there are better educational attainment outcomes;
  • as the worklessness rate of an area decreases,health outcomes improve.

They suggest that the amount of space you have in your house is critical to how you feel about your area, which means that social tenants are most likely to feel the least happy with their areas.

One in seven social tenants say they are dissatisfied with their local areas and with their accommodation, with dissatisfaction with accommodation being particularly high for those aged under 45.

That certainly chimes with my experience as a councillor and isn’t that surprising given that it’s this age group that are most likely to have children and to be living in overcrowded conditions.

The attempts by local and national policy makers to change the mix of tenure seems to get a cautious welcome:

There has been some success in that mixed communities have not been characterised by the problems often linked with exclusively low-income areas and have generally met the expectations of developers, residents and housing managers and become pleasant places to live, learn and work (Holmes, 2006). Mixed-tenure and mixed-income were also seen as “non-issues” to residents; they saw their neighbours as “ordinary people”.

But as I think I’ve pointed to before there’s more recent research that suggests this doesn’t work so well in high density design.

There’s an ongoing arguement that all this is just “rearranging the deckchairs” without considerable income and wealth redistribution. While others suggest planners should to

the importance of the aspirations set for an area, in light of the endurance of neighbourhood identity over time. This includes the need to properly consider how layout and design can help foster a sense of place and the social interactions that promote feelings of community. They suggest more thought needs to go into parks, play areas, open spaces and the wider environment including the shops and social facilities that provide a forum for social contact in localities…

The paper concludes by saying that:

the perennial debate within regeneration circles about whether to focus on the place or the people, and whether social inclusion interventions are relevant in designing employment, skills and education strategies. The research indicates that this is clearly a false divide. Both are required, working in synergy, through coordinated spatial plans that respond to local needs and opportunities and that cut across departmental boundaries and tiers of decision-making.

And that if bad economic times are on the way those delivering this agenda had better get on with it PDQ.

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About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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2 Responses to Transforming disadvantaged places: effective strategies for places and people

  1. William Canynge says:

    What, no serious consideration of the role of culture and sport? Unsurprising, disappointing and ultimately tragic.

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