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Regeneration Disappears Along With Regionalism

April 26, 2010

Where’s the regeneration? is a question which continues to worry many of us, as we look at (read reports of?) the political parties’ manifestos. This remains a valid and critical matter; but perhaps the invisibility of regeneration in its full-on form is inevitable. First there is a large degree of consensus about needing to concentrate on the smallest units of community life, and then, before we can say Sustainable, the bigger units have disappeared from view.

Sustainable may well quite often be Small; but it can’t always be so. The human scale is critical, but so is the strategic level, when it comes regeneration. Serious strategy is usually big; and Big, especially in some political circles, seems very out of favour at the moment.

Well, given the immense expenditure required to innovate in more ambitious scales of regeneration, how astonishing is that? And why are we also surprised that regional levels of intervention are so at risk? (Perhaps, in truth, we’re not….?)

Look after it, or lose it
It’s the usual thing, which we all keep reminding each other about, and then promptly forget ourselves – if you ignore something which requires any more than warm words, it will probably get lost. This applies as much to large-scale regeneration as it does to the skills of piano playing.

And you can’t get people to beat the drums for a big boom when you’ve decided to teach them only the triangle.

Of course micro-communities are vital, and of course – without any doubt at all – those at the receiving end of ‘regeneration’ have a perfect right to a view. But the emergence of the Big Society, not Big Government idea shows very clearly what will happen if we put aside the importance of big plans for regeneration, as we all dive into double devolution.

Avoiding big spend?
The costs of large-scale interventions are I suspect at the root of the avoidance, at this point in proceedings, of Things Regenerational by the more-usually-regenerationally-inclined parts of the body politic. (The other less-government-led-less-regenerationally-inclinded bits of said body probably don’t much see any need to go there anyway.)

And who can blame the politicians, when the economics is so difficult and the clamour in regeneration for micro-scale engagement seems to have all but drowned out the more ponderous stuff about infrastructure, large-scale energy requirements, massive housing demands etc?

Value for money and for ‘communities’
The next task for those who lead regeneration at the level of large-scale operation will be to demonstrate how we can all be joined-up: how we can value and accommodate the views of people ‘in the community’, whilst also hanging onto, and effectively delivering, the grander scale of regeneration which makes a wider, and very real, difference?

Who is going to stand up and show that VfM goes hand-in-hand with the impact of a big perspective, right up to the regional level, in a way which attending solely to the micro-scale cannot?

Articulating what we’ve learned
Who is going to articulate with conviction the case for regeneration which looks to the future, and sees that sustainable communities need both a decent level of large (government etc.) intervention, and the genuine engagement, or at least consent, of all of us, as citizens? It can’t be ‘either / or’; it must be ‘both’.

We’ve learned a good deal about regeneration and routes to sustainability over the past decade or more.

Brave leadership
Now is absolutely not the time to forget those lessons and see regeneration whittled down to being nice to people in their communities, who can then get on with things as they wish.

We must be much, much braver than that.

A version of this article was first published in New Start Blog on 26 April 2010.

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