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For most of the twentieth century inner cities have been the focus of economic and social decline. A major factor in urban decline is economic structural change. For example, the collapse of manufacturing employment in the 1970’s profoundly impacted on the industrial north. Manufacturers abandoned traditional locations and skilled workers were forced to relocate and seek employment in new towns and cities. When employment opportunities decentralise so too do the workforce and urban decentralisation follows1. During the 1970’s many large cities stopped growing and some lost population, London for example declined by about 20%. Those who remained were mainly unemployed, poor, sick, elderly or recent immigrants. The result of a decline in population, a downward spiral of worsening job prospects and decaying urban fabric has often been inner city decay.

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Out-migration in some cities maybe balanced by in-migration so the problem is not necessarily out-migration itself but rather the nature of the out-migrants. This is reflected in the loss of the most affluent and mobile residents because inner city facilities cannot provide for their needs3. This creates social polarisation in which the urban area is left with a concentration of social housing and falling tax revenues while at the same time there is a growing demand for services. With the prospect of a bleak future local authorities and landlords neglect public housing, social facilities become run-down and underlying socio-ecological problems escalate.

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Economic structural change in industrialised areas led to the inability of “post-industrial” economies to utilise the potential of many industrial areas. One example of this is the changing riverfront of London’s South Bank and the East London Docklands1. The Docklands had once been the hub of London’s commercial and industrial prosperity. For centuries it had been at the heart of Britain’s global trade. By the 1970’s it fell into decline and dereliction following the London Port Authority’s decision to containerise cargo at Tilbury. This once prosperous urban area became degenerated with poverty stricken slums, high unemployment and low-income. It remained in a state of urban decay for several decades until it underwent a process of “urban-recycling”.

Butler’s Wharf closed in 1972 and was still derelict in 1997 when a consortium led by Terence Conran bought much of this site. Today it is a lively fashionable area of apartments, restaurants and shops. Coles Wharf was once two granaries. In 2000 the surviving granary was converted into offices and apartments. Canary Wharf once a blighted area has now been transformed by a successful waterfront redevelopment achieved by the coming together of politicians and businesses. Today the regeneration of the Docklands has transformed it into a prosperous business community. It has been gentrified by the high income of the upwardly mobile, single professional people who sought centrally located housing as opposed to travelling in from the family orientated suburbs on congested roads or overcrowded public transport.

Now in 2003 attention has turned to the regeneration and growth of the Thames Gateway. The focus on the Gateway for regeneration and growth evolved in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a safety valve for South East expansion. Historically, it has suffered from physical, social and economic neglect. Declining heavy industry, including shipping and associated docklands, left vast tracts of derelict and under-used brown-fill land. Now recent announcements by the new Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister have rejuvenated its profile as a focus for major regeneration and growth. Renewed emphasis on the urban renaissance and design quality combined with its strategic location between London and the Continent, point to an opportunity to create a high-quality linear city, acting as the gateway between mainland Europe and the UK1.

Of perhaps the most importance for the ambitious building programmes in parts of the South East is the related problem of poor quality housing. The recently launched Sustainable Communities:Building for the Future2 possibly represents the most important housing policy statement. It provides a range of initiatives to improve the quality of life in deprived areas thereby stimulating housing demand. It provides an undertaking to accommodate 200,000 additional homes in the period up to 2016 across four growth areas including the Thames Gateway.

The terms upon which regeneration programmes are constructed are power, political relations and money. Businesses provide the money and labour to restore or rebuild facilities. Politicians provide tax and legal incentives to improve profitability. The negative side of this renaissance however is that despite the influx of affluent groups and the generation of much needed improvement there is a price tag. Those who are socially excluded lack the State mediated redistribution of education and work as the principle means of integration and participation. They are gradually squeezed out as rehabilitation is usually accompanied by steep rises in the cost of housing1. Therefore it is important that the need for affordable housing is met in any regeneration programme.

Social conditions that drive regeneration then are extreme conditions of stagnation and degradation. Urban environments, particularly low-income environments, are characterised by harsh physical and social conditions and they become synonymous with unemployment, slum housing, poverty, escalating crime and drugs, ethnic minorities and ‘white flight’2. Day to day life in these contexts can amount to chronic stress. Chronic stress creates negative effects both directly and indirectly on physical and mental health e.g. depression and high suicide rates. This is the outcome of multiple factors like a lack of formal education, skills and employment opportunity. The inability to break the link between unemployment, poverty and debt.

A declining and under active local economy. Poor housing conditions and homes that are economically non-viable both to repair and maintain. Poor public services including transport infrastructure, healthcare, education and training1. What makes a sustainable community is a flourishing local community to provide jobs and wealth. A diverse, vibrant and creative local culture with effective engagement and participation by local people to give them a sense of value, belonging and pride in their community. Only intervention can regenerate areas in decline.

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Kylie Garcia

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