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Animating public space: A case study in soft regeneration

November 2012

Urban public spaces are at their best when they are democratic, inclusive, and meet the needs of a wide range of people

Animating public space: A case study in soft regeneration

Research by Regan Koch and Alan Latha

Urban public spaces are at their best when they are democratic, inclusive, and meet the needs of a wide range of people. Yet this is not always this case. Large, upmarket urban spaces are often marked by a sense of exclusivity. In other cases, public spaces become defined by social problems. Antisocial behavior or fear of crime drives people away.

The Prince of Wales Junction in west London was a case of the latter. Although located at a central point in a busy urban neighborhood, it was a place where most people did not want to spend much time. Void of activity in the daytime, at night it was a well-known spot for street drinking, drug dealing and prostitution. This article explores the work of trying to make the Junction into a vibrant neighborhood public space.

Creating a lively public space from scratch is not straightforward. Initially the local authorities concentrated on policing and surveillance. This decreased levels of criminal activity. But it did not invite other, more positive uses onto the site. To transform the Junction into a site used by the neighborhood, the authorities responsible for the site found they had to introduce a range of new ways of inhabiting the site. Regenerating the public life of the Junction ended up being much more about finding ways of inviting new uses into the site than about the excluding activities that had made it undesirable.

As a case study, the Prince of Wales Junction raises some important questions about managing urban public spaces. What constitutes a good public space? How do different ways of organising a space encourage or discourage social interaction? How do different groups of people come to use or avoid a place? And what role do policy makers have in creating public spaces that are inclusive and well used?

About the research

This summary outlines an article about a series of policy interventions in a site in west London, the Prince of Wales Junction. One aim of the article is to consider a range of questions about managing urban public space. Another way of reading the article, however, is as a case study in what some call ‘soft-regeneration’. Soft regeneration means using social strategies to transform the life of an area. This kind of approach is distinct from ‘hard regeneration’, which instead focuses on the physical redevelopment of an area to reinvigorate it.

Research for the project was largely qualitative. This included attending neighbourhood meetings, interviewing local residents, police, planners, business owners and those involved in the redesign of the site. It also involved participating in the daily life of the space – for example, one of the researchers worked at a vegetable stall for a period of six weeks. The reason for choosing such an approach was because it allowed a close analysis of how the transformations affected the way people inhabited the site.

Relevance

AQA – A level unit 3, Human option (World cities). Investigates contemporary urban processes in a developed country. Focuses on the management of urban regeneration in response to urban decline.

Edexcel – AS level unit 2, topic 4 (Rebranding Places). Identifies reasons to rebrand an area and the players involved in doing so. Focuses on the material qualities of a public space as a way to regenerate its image.

OCR – AS level unit F762 (Managing urban change). Provides a case study to illustrate how planning and management practices are enabling positive processes of urbanisation.

In the Members' Area:

  • Animating public space: A case study in ‘soft regeneration’
  • About Prince of Wales Junction
  • The need for action
  • A case of soft regeneration
  • Managing public space and urban change
  • Ask the Expert: Regan Koch
  • View Regan and Alan's report
  • Teachers' notes
  • Accompanying worksheet
  • Accompanying PowerPoint

Listen to the views of:

  • Regan Koch, PhD candidate in geography at University College London
  • Julie Bundy, Director of Maida Hill Place Ltd. (manages events at the marketplace)
  • Martin Whittles, former Project Manager for Westminster City Council
  • Leroy Muhammad, local resident and market stall holder

 

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