A Place for Area Based Regeneration

RTPI Scotland Director Craig McLaren discusses the recent Patrick Geddes Lecture

When we asked Naomi Eisenstadt to give the 14th annual Sir Patrick Geddes Commemorative lecture we were conscious that the title we suggested “Poverty, Places and Equality: A role for Place Based Approaches?” was a challenge. We wanted to put ‘place’ back on the agenda at a time when thoughts about the merits of area based approaches were being rekindled by some in the public and voluntary sector.  As the Independent Advisor to the Scottish Government on Poverty and Inequality, Naomi had published an important and influential report Shifting the Curve in 2016. This had 15 recommendations including the need to build more social housing, to ensure fuel poverty programmes are focused to support those on low incomes and do more to tackle the poverty premium in home energy costs. However for the large part the document didn’t discuss the role of place based initiatives so we were keen to hear Naomi’s thoughts.

She didn’t disappoint. Her lecture was fizzing with energy and ideas and she reiterated the important role planning and planners have in tackling poverty. She explained why the quality of neighbourhoods is vital to reducing poverty, and why local authorities must be strengthened to deliver them.

From the outset she said we need to be clear about what we mean.  Poverty is the lack of adequate resources to participate in social norms; inequality the distance from the poorest to the richest; and disadvantage comes from the features that limit equality of opportunity, including poverty and inequality, but not exclusively.

She pointed to a number of area based issues such as the large differences in life expectancy between poor and wealthy wards in the same local authority and areas where of poor housing are not good in offering  opportunities, job prospects, public transport and educational attainment.  This pointed to a need for targeted, place-based approaches in tackling poverty and inequality, she said. Although the causes of poverty are complex, Naomi pointed out that the design of the physical environment also has a huge role in crime prevention and in promoting social cohesion and physical and mental well-being.

Previous attempts at area based regeneration had been well-intentioned through attempting to join up key services, engage with local communities and focus capital and revenue investment. However it was clear that high quality job creation did not follow investment.

So what should we do?  Naomi thought approaches to ‘inclusive growth’ were part of the answer.   It’s 5 key principles could help – creating a shared mission; measuring the human experience of growth, not just its rate; seeing growth as the whole social system, not just the hardware; being an agile investor at scale; and developing entrepreneurial ‘whole-place leadership’.  This ‘whole-place leadership’ approach needed to recognise that everybody at every level – from the national to the street – has a role to play and is seen an important part of the solution.  Government should look to its role in investing in infrastructure; in providing fair tax and benefits; in ensuring education works for all learners; in measuring social as well as economic returns on investment; and as an employer.  Businesses needed to pay a real living wage; explore how to design jobs that suited the needs of people; collaborate with schools to identify skill demands; and provide flexible working practices. Whilst civil society had a role in ensuring that all voices were able to be heard; in piloting new solutions; in disseminating what doesn’t work as well as what does; and in holding Government and Business to account.

This led to Naomi discussing the need to agree what was done at what level, recognising the politics of decision-making and that electoral cycles demand quick wins, and in turn wins demand control. She said we needed to realise that devolution of power demands tolerance of difference to meet the specific needs for that place.  The important role and contribution of local government needed to be recognised and it had to be rebuilt to be able to make an impact.  And despite seeing the potential for city region deals Naomi had concerns that work at this level was piecemeal an unplanned.

The lecture provided an enormous amount of food for thought and we are looking to keep  the conversation going with Naomi to explore how we can take forward these issues, challenges and opportunities.

You can download Naomi’s presentation here.

 

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