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by Valentino Piana (2010)



1. Significance
  2. Typologies of urban regeneration  
3. Determinants
4. Impact on other variables
5. Long-term trends
6. Behaviour during the business cycle
7. Our experience
8. What we can do for you
9. Related papers


A strategy of urban transformation for target areas to be upgraded in housing, public and private buildings, services, infrastructure and mobility systems, open and green areas as well as whole urban landscapes and skylines.

It involves the commitment of a large number of stakeholders at different levels (local, sub-national, national and sometimes international) with the collective goals of re-launching the city and regional economy with new jobs, skills, entrepreneurship opportunities, while generating specific advantages for participating subjects. The population, both directly and indirectly affected, is involved, in different proportions and timing.

Target areas tend to be degrated inner city zones, abandoned industrial premises, waterfronts, surrondings of transport infrastructures - all instances of a large gap in the between actual and potential value of space.

As a process, it's a joint effort of city planners, urban designers and specialists, architects, engineers, economists, civil servants, politicians and entrepreneurs to provide opportunities for more qualified private and public spaces, sometimes as a lasting legacy of large - scale events in sports and artists' works and performances.

Typologies of urban regeneration

Urban regeneration can involve:

a. a single building, usually abandoned, dismissed, mis-used, or under squatter occupation; regeneration can involve total or partial substitution or, by contrast, restoration and revamping;

b. a street, a square, or an area with or without a central place;

c. a broad shape over the city, providing new collective identity and spatial solutions to an heterogeneous aggregate;

d. multiple locations in the town, to pinpoint new functions easily accessible from all residents;

e. a rethinking of the whole "image" of the city, as analytically described using the categories by Kevin A. Lynch;

f. a redistribution of roles in a network of cities, each identifying the sub-city area where to operate.

Inwarding-looking urban regeneration can insist on the internal coherence of the project, with little consideration of its location, providing a radical breakdown of the urban texture and allowing for quick and cheap replication. Outward-looking urban regeneration provides answers to the tensions arising in the surroundings and operates as a new lung of the urban organism.

Mono-functional approaches (e.g. directed to private residential estates) can be contrasted to complex approaches, leading to functional mixes, innovative and unique functions, full management of the effects on mobility and energy and to broader economic, social and environmental sustainability.

City-marketing approaches emphasise specific landmarks and large-scale events to promote a boost of visitors, an inflow of investments and a lasting legacy in terms of infrastructure and servicies.

From a financial point of view, one might have a regeneration mainly backed by public expenditure, by private investment or a mix of the two.

Regenerations widely differ in the width and depths of community involvement in planning, designing, executing, experiencing and appropriation of the new functions and objects, in their identities, morphologies and typologies.


The first determinant is the will of the city authorities (mayor, city councils, politicians) and stakeholders (Chamber of Commerce, trade unions, NGOs, private investors, land-owners,...).

This will is often shaped by the perceived crisis in sectoral or territorial terms, together with the determination of making major visible steps towards prosperity and sustainability, making use of the the opportunities offered by large scale public programmes at higher level (international and national level). Low interest rates and innovative private-public partnership programs are conducive to private participation.

Impact on other variables

A successful urban regeneration improves the capital stock of the city, while, through increased employment, economic activity, profits and possibly wages, it provides the opportunity for upgrading professional and entrepreunerial competencies as well as the supply of unique services. It protects and nurtures social and natural capital.

The regenerations of the city improve the quality of life by contrasting urban degradation and abandoned areas, displacing petty crime, and offering an opportunity for residents' appropriation of green areas for recreational purposes while caring and maintaining their quality, as well as often enlarging the consumption premises.

In certain cases, the regeneration can involve an important reduction in energy consumption and GHG emissions, including by weatherization and installation of renewable energies. More in general, it can be included in climate change strategies of mitigation and adaptation.

Green-centred regenerations reverse the traditional Gestalt relation between figure and background, by conceiving the green areas as the figure and to use human artifacts as background. Eco-neighbourhoods are the nurturing place for the green economy, for new services and products aimed at fulfilling the needs of the inhabitants with as little energy and material resources as possible.

Urban regeneration involves the co-evolution of the quality of the city governance, the relationship of trust between the public and the private sector, the technological capabilities of local firms (including innovative products and services), the availability of funds, the effectiveness of democratic participation.

It reshapes the land use, with some parts of the city improved and enhanced with upgraded infrastructure, accessibility, quality of urban design, usually raising the price of land and the value of the new and existing estates.

In certain cases, it can lead to a portions of "corporate cities", where extensive areas are accessed under private rules and controls (e.g. cameras).

Conversely, an explicit sensitivity to social issues (as economic and cultural poverty, job conditions, health and safety issues, etc.) can be an important ingredient for broadly supported strategies.

Successful examples of urban regeneration in a part of the city provide impulse for further initiatives in other areas. Complex regenerations, involving unique ingredients and mixes of functions, enriches the attractiveness and competitiveness of the city with respect to a broad area and cities' network.

Conversely, urban regeneration can abort in earlier or later stages, due to shortage of funds, unreliable business plans, opposition of the neighbours, unbalances in the costs - benefits distribution, and other reasons.

Long-term trends

In the development dynamics, initially, cities usually grow by including adjacent green areas or by seeding a new pole to be later connected to the urban texture. Over time, the older parts of the city might suffer from degradation and the burst of housing and productive bubbles might leave bankrupt activities, emptying buildings. Accordingly, urban regeneration is very important in relatively mature economies, as it can achieve the urban renaissance of inner cities and their surroundings.

Eco-neighbourhoods are spreading worldwide as the new economy of sustainability becomes the dominant pattern of our civilization.

Internationally, the trend of initiatives scattered over cities is rising, with some boom and burst due to financial markets and public finance conditions.

Behaviour during the business cycle

It depends on electoral timing and the process of decision-making across a large number of stake-holders. In principle, there might be more urban regenerations during the recovery phase, as fiscal stimulus can be channeled through urban regeneration. Private investment will probably join in sustained growth phases. A boom in the construction and housing sector (with higher prices for houses) is conducive to larger number of initiatives.

However, private-led regeneration might have a timing more linked to the specific conditions of the promoter and foreign-based investors might reflect the conditions of their country of origin.

Our experience

The Economics Web Institute and its members have supported ambitious projects of urban regeneration. Most recently, we have contributed to the economic strategy of a port city in Italy, under the vision, guidance and coordination of the public administration.

The Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, with its DG Territorial Development, has launched and carried out, over the years, several innovative programs for a comprehensive, integrated and complex approach to urban regeneration, led by Arch. Francesco Giacobone. The City of Brindisi has taken these opportunities for developing its own model of governance and action.

In terms of eco-neighbourhoods, we are contributing to an innovative association ("Ecoquartieri per l'Italia") aimed at supporting public authorities and local collectivity to make the change happen. Our director has outlined the project of an eco-neighbourhood at Monterotondo that has gained EU financial support of more than 5 mln Euro for 10 integrated activities.

What we can do for you

If you are a local authority, an NGO or a private firm interested in launching, supporting, participating and modifying urban regeneration projects, we can cooperate with you for a higher effectiveness, more innovative approaches towards sustainability, and international networking. Learn more about our services through this brochure.

Feel free to contact us.

Related papers

The economic sustainability of eco-neighbourhood

A public presentation of urban regeneration as a leverage to create value [Italian language]

The urban regeneration supported by EWI director in an Italian city [Italian language]

Brindisi: Urban regeneration to build the XXI Century city

Networks of urban regeneration areas: new approches in the Netherlands

Barriers to urban regeneration - a UK perspective


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