Regeneration Rethink: Acknowledging Equality And Diversity
Regeneration is a crowded field. It’s the market place to resolve the competing demands of social equity indicators as varied as joblessness, family health, carbon footprint, religious belief and housing. But it’s obvious something isn’t gelling in the way regeneration ‘works’. Could that something be the almost gratuitous neglect of experiential equality and diversity?
BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, is squaring up to this fundamental challenge.
Some respond immediately: Yes, critical for everyone; what took you so long?
For others, the feeling seems to be more : Great idea, but not much to do with me.
So where’s the common ground?
Balancing strategy and everyday reality
How can we balance large-scale strategies for a sustainable economy with the immediate human reality that, as an example, women born in Pakistan now living in Britain have twice the U.K. average risk that their babies will die before age one?
The Board of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, has during the past year thought hard about where in all this some commonality might lie, and what that means for the future. Whether as a practitioner, a client or recipient of regenerational endeavours, an agent for economic development, or a policy maker seeking sustainable futures for us all, questions of social equity matter a lot.
But the case for equality and diversity is easier for practitioners and decision-makers to see in some parts of regeneration than others.
Large-scale and micro impacts
No-one doubts, for instance, that new roads and other infrastructure can attract businesses and enhance employment opportunities for disadvantaged areas.
Some will acknowledge the physical isolation which new highways may impose on those without transport, now perhaps cut off from their families, friends and local amenities.
Almost no-one considers how regeneration might reduce the tragic personal realities behind high infant death rates in poor or ‘deprived’ communities.
The point is that these impacts are differential. The elderly or disabled, mothers and young children, people of minority ethnic heritage: overall the experience of people in these groups is more community disadvantage and fewer formal resources to overcome this disadvantage.
But for each ‘group’, the tipping points are different.
The scope for examination of differential equality and diversity impacts – of infrastructural arrangements, of process, of capacity building and of everything else to do with regeneration – is enormous, and would go quite a way towards reducing unintended consequences and even greater serendipitous disadvantage for some people.
This work has hardly begun, but it is I believe a basic requirement and tool for making progress towards genuinely remediated and sustainable communities.
One size does not fit all
It is obvious that currently something isn’t gelling in the way that regeneration ‘works’. That something, to my mind, is the almost gratuitous neglect of difference. However one looks at it, one size simply does not fit all in the greater regenerational scheme of things.
But if you zoomed in from outer space, you’d be forced to the conclusion that one size does in fact fit almost all when it comes to senior decision-makers and influencers. There are amongst leaders in regeneration some women, a few non-white faces, and perhaps even smaller numbers of influencers with personal experience of, say, disability; but not many.
This self-evident fact has, of course, been a matter of deep concern to those in the regeneration sector over the past few months.
Meeting social equity requirements – or not
In the final three reports it published before its amalgamation last September into the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) demonstrated very clearly that regeneration bodies at every level, including 15 Whitehall departments, are failing to meet their race relations obligations. They also showed very compellingly that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, experience poor health, and encounter the criminal justice system.
Causal factors cited as underlying the CRE’s findings encompass most of what regeneration is supposed to do well. Failures of leadership, impact assessment, legal framework and recruitment are all lamented in the reports.
And we can add, alongside the CRE’s analysis, inequalities arising from gender, belief and other factors such as disability, as well as the wider issue of the invisibility and powerlessness of people of all kinds who are on low incomes – who, as it happens, are the main ‘recipients’ (perhaps we should call them ‘clients’?) of regeneration.
There is a huge disparity here. Look round pretty well any significant regeneration-facing board room or policy think-tank, and it’s apparent that the majority of those wielding influence (on behalf, we should note, of people whose communities are to be ‘regenerated’) are comfortably-off, able bodied, white men.
In this respect, as everyone involved freely admits, the BURA Board fits the mould. Each BURA (elected) Director brings something special to the table; but few of them can offer at first hand a personal perspective divergent from the stereotype. We have therefore decided, unanimously, to address head-on this increasingly serious challenge to our capacity to deliver as leaders in regeneration.
But the BURA Board focus on equality and diversity, whilst driven primarily by the impetus to uphold best practice in regeneration, is not entirely altruistic. This is also good for business.
There is plenty of evidence from well-grounded research that sharing different understandings of any complex situation, right up to and including at Board level, brings benefit all round – including to the bottom line.
Our resolve to implement equality and diversity good practice throughout BURA has required that we look anew at how we function. The BURA Board recognises that we will need to be receptive to new ideas, willing to change things where needs be, and transparent in our own processes and activities.
The BURA programme for action
The BURA action plan, launched in Westminster on 20 February ’08, is therefore to:
· conduct an equality and diversity audit of all aspects (including Board membership) of our organisation’s structure and business, and to publish our outline findings and plan for action on our website;
· monitor and report on our progress towards equality and diversity;
· dedicate a part of the BURA website to offering up-to-date information on equality and diversity matters, in a format freely accessible to everyone;
· develop our (also open) Regeneration Equality and Diversity Network, launched in February this year (2008), to encourage very necessary debate and the exchange of good practice;
· appoint from amongst elected Non-Executive Directors a BURA Equality and Diversity Champion (me), to ensure a continued focus on the issues.
In all these ways – developing inclusive partnerships at every level from local to governmental to international, supporting new initiatives and research of all sorts, keeping the equality and diversity agenda in the spotlight – we hope to move regeneration beyond its current boundaries, towards a place from which we can begin to establish not ‘just’ remediation of poor physical and human environments, but rather true and responsive sustainability.
Regeneration is complex
Regeneration is more than construction, development or even planning; it has to address for instance the alarming recent finding by New Start that sometimes ‘race’ concerns are focused more on fear, than on entitlement or social equity.
Delivery of our ambition to achieve genuine best practice will require the courage to move beyond current and largely unperceived hierarchies of inequality and diversity – not ‘just’ race, but gender / sexuality too; not ‘just’ faith / belief, but also disability – towards a framework which encompasses the challenging complexities of the world as people actually experience it.
No comfort zones
There can be no comfort zones in this enterprise. Acknowledging stark contemporary truths and painful past failures is essential if we are to succeed.
The purpose of regeneration is not to make practitioners feel good, it is ultimately, rather, to do ourselves out of a job; to improve, sustainably, the lives of people who are often neither powerful nor visible in the existing wider scheme of things.
Moving from piecemeal regeneration to sustainable futures makes two demands of us: that we see clearly where we all are now; and that we ascertain properly where the people of all sorts on whose behalf we are delivering regeneration would wish to be.
Multiple aspects of diversity
When we can balance constructively, say, the carbon footprint concerns of a businessman in Cheltenham, and the ambition to influence childcare arrangements of an Asian heritage woman in Bury, we shall be getting somewhere.
Diversity in its many manifestations – age, belief, (dis)ability, gender, race or whatever – is part of the human condition.
Consistent focus on the many factors underpinning that condition would be a powerful impetus towards sustainability. It would also be also a huge professional challenge.
Taking the lead as regenerators
That’s why we as regeneration leaders and practitioners must make equality and diversity a critically central theme, both within our own organisations and in the services which we deliver.
And it’s why we must start to do this right now.
We hope you will want to join us on our journey.
A version of this article was published as Regeneration re-think in Public Service Review: Transport, Local Government and the Regions, issue 12, Spring 2008.
Hilary Burrage is a Director of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association.