Our neighbourhoods are the shoulders we stand on. Adapt them and we enrich ourselves with jobs, history, community and place. Lose them and we leave ourselves destitute.
This resounding end to the short film animation we made, in which we explored an alternative business-driven future for a run-down, edge-of-town site, summarises our approach to incremental regeneration with people in place. The alternative - which is to start from scratch, the so-called tabula rasa approach to remaking places, obliterating decay through amnesia, and selling the dream of transformation without a road map - must no longer be trusted.
In the post-war period, there has been an ongoing assault on neighbourhoods which do not fit the picture of the UK as a successful, forward-looking economy. Numerous interesting, post-industrial places have been sent spiralling into full-blown blight by the uncertainty of their very existence. In particular, town centres, occupied in the main by marginal businesses and useful social venues, even as they sit in limbo, might appear to be worthy candidates for careful renovation. However, regeneration for these kinds of areas is seen to require some serious de-cluttering, a wholesale clearing out that sweeps away all before it. It is claimed that values can only be recouped in places of low land values when development comes in big chunks through comprehensive re-development, requiring a heavy-handed process of land assembly, centralised planning, hard-to-come-by grant aid and black box public-private partnership agreements.
Ash Sakula is convinced that a gentler approach to renewal - the incremental adaption of a neighbourhood, rather than its wholesale demolition and comprehensive redevelopment - is a preferable proposition. Allowed to adapt organically to new opportunities, marginal neighbourhoods can sometimes transcend the market, showing the way to a richer future in the productive economy. People on the ground can come up with ideas that can be tried out at low cost and low risk. What if we celebrate low property values as an opportunity for young people to invent new businesses and older people to continue with businesses that have declining order books but still serve a purpose? Cities benefit from varied rhythms of activity and businesses profit from a diverse choice of building types.
As architects we can see the way that buildings and whole areas, once under-appreciated, eventually find new audiences. We can see the way people learn from places and adapt their own lifestyles for the chance to spend more time in those places which seem to need their energy and love.
Putting under-utilised land and buildings to better use - sustainably and profitably.