Regeneration lessons from Detroit – focus on improving the lives of your residents

I have just been reading an interesting article about Detroit’s new approach to its Regeneration. I was going to also say ‘Growth’, but part of the plan is recognizing that Detroit has shrunk and the need to accept and plan for this ‘de-growth’.

I have seen previous references to some places needing to accept, and plan for, ‘Decline’, and this is a phrase I do not like as (to me) it seems to accept defeat. De-growth sounds a little bit better – but not much; so again not a phrase I would choose to use.

However, what I do like about Detroit’s long-term strategy (as reported in the article) is the primary aim is to improve the quality of life of its residents; economic diversification and environmental sustainability.

This quality of life approach is in contrast to Detroit’s (and of many other places’) previous approach to regeneration of trying to turn back the clock based on increasing land values and attract inward investment, with public bodies taking on the risk for large-scale urban development projects, with private firms reaping any financial rewards. This led to investors believing that municipal bonds were essentially risk-free and offered high rewards, so when Detroit’s local government tried to make up for its lack of funds, because of its shrinking tax base, by issuing bonds there was no shortage of willing investors.

The problem was that the urban development undertaken, based on large and mega physical projects, did little to reverse the city’s economic decline or outflow of its population. In the end Detroit’s local government declared bankruptcy – not an option available to UK local authorities as they are ‘bodies in perpetuity’ so can’t go bankrupt. But the dangers of borrowing secured against future tax receipts which don’t materialise is a warning which UK Council’s (and urban regeneration advisers), given the current fashion for talking about devolution and localisation, need to be well aware of and to learn the lesson.

Anyway, I like the sound of Detroit’s focus on improving the quality of life for its residents as the primary aim, rather than chasing big inward investment schemes. This reminds me of something I have said in the past about the regeneration of towns and cities:

“your town and neighbourhood must the best version of itself that it can be and not a second rate version of somewhere else”.

This approach, of being the best version of yourself,  is based on people and improving the quality of their lives, and understanding that regeneration and economic growth ought to be all about people.

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FT letter: who is going to build the houses we need?

Blog from Shaun Spiers on housing and need to accept that to get a lot more homes (which is what we need), the Government will have to build:


FT letter: who is going to build the houses we need?.

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Localism and the Devolution of Local Government – where to draw the boundaries?

I have written before about the current push for localisation and devolution of Local Government, and how I think that too many people are pushing this agenda without really thinking through the consequences.

I have just read this article in The Guardian which is well worth reading:

It outlines some of the difficulties in where to draw the boundaries, and in having too much localism.

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The UK’s Planning System is broken, doesn’t work for everyone, and needs fixing

I have just read this very good document from The Bartlett School of Planning at UCL London:

“5 Radical Ideas for a Better Planning System”.

Its basic thesis is that ‘the Planning System needs to rediscover its original purpose of delivering fairness and promoting collective wellbeing…..’, which is something I totally agree with.

The document from The Bartlett is well worth a read, and I agree with pretty much the whole of it, apart from the bit about annual Land Value Taxation the reasons for which I can explain if anyone is interested.

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Are road charging and tolling things of the past?

At a recent ‘Transport Debate’ Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat transport spokespeople seemed to agree that traffic congestion can be tackled by using traffic and freight management technology, without resorting to systems of road user charging which many people, including myself, do not like or support.

Patrick McLoughlin MP, Liberal Democrat transport minister, Baroness Susan Kramer and former shadow transport minister, Labour MP Lilian Greenwood made the comments as part of a ‘Great Transport Debate’ debate hosted by KPMG.

Conservative Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: ‘Intelligent traffic control will happen and the smart motorway programme is the way forward’, and that in addition to smart motorways roads could be relieved through more effective freight distribution, including encouraging night-time deliveries and transferring more freight off the road and onto the railways.

Baroness Kramer (Liberal Democrat) thought there would still be a role for congestion charging as in London, in order to improve air quality, but ‘where I’m much less convinced is on the open road, I think this debate will be overtaken by new technology’, for example ‘by vehicle platooning as a way of increasing road capacity, with convoys of cars or lorries travelling in electronic road trains behind a lead vehicle’.

‘There is an awful lot of new technology coming and, in five years, we will see road pricing as an argument of the past’, she added.

This information has come via a report from Transport Surveyor, although they didn’t actually report what Labour said.

This is an interesting development which links together two of my recent blogs: about ‘Smart Cities’ being about making places work for people rather than the technology suppliers; and on some evidence from the USA which found that people are paying to use ‘fast’ motorway lanes when it doesn’t save them much time, and the poor were paying to do this more than would have been assumed.

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Reclaiming the “Smart” agenda for fair human outcomes enabled by technology

A full and very interesting blog by Dr Rick Robinson about ‘Smart Cities’, pointing out the vital points which I have been going on about for some time:   technology is not ‘Smart’ unless it’s used to create human value, and that Smart Cities must be about people first and foremost (and this may not even include ‘technology’ in some circumstances).

Well worth a read.

Reclaiming the “Smart” agenda for fair human outcomes enabled by technology.

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Are roads being tolled to benefit the technology suppliers and operators rather than the users?

I have just read a report by one of the large transport and planning consultants which looked into why drivers us ‘managed lanes’ on Motorways (that is where variable tolls are charged according to the time of day in order to manage demand and control congestion).

An interesting thing they found was that more drivers than might be expected used these managed lanes and paid the tolls despite the time savings being very small – very little over the time taken on the un-tolled lanes. In other words, people paid a toll when there was no reason to do so.

To me this illustrates what I have been thinking for some time – the tolling of roads and motorways is being pushed not by the need to save time or to manage congestion but by the suppliers of the technology and the operators of the tolled roads, all of whom are more interested in making money for themselves than making our economy work more efficiently. And this argument also applies to ‘real-time’ and variable tariffs for energy which will become possible once we have smart-meters which are being rolled-out at great expense to the consumers but with 80% of the benefits going to the energy companies.

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