Is culture-led regeneration the solution for struggling cities?


In London, many previously underprivileged areas have, or are rapidly changing – whether it’s bringing new homes, jobs or entertainment to these communities – regeneration projects are at an all-time high.

Culture in society describes the ‘way of life’, which is passed down generations – so with that in mind, culture-led regeneration has the potential to deliver wide-ranging social and economic benefits. This raises the question; should we be doing more to incorporate cultural elements in urban regeneration plans?

Take Peckham as an example, despite its previously neglected reputation, this south-east London location has proved much more than just the home for Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses and has undergone considerable regeneration in the last few years. However, despite the gentrification poverty is still an issue for a lot of people living in these communities.

During the early 1990s, Peckham was one of the most deprived areas in the country – a place where communities moved to, but then moved on. Prior to 1990, approximately 70% of residents in the Five Estates area wanted to leave Peckham. This called for radical action to regenerate the area and tackle effects of the social and economic decline.

Since then, the area has been on an upwards journey, making it now one of the most sought-after places to live, rather than just to visit in south-east London. These changes have added substantial community value, by creating new jobs and opportunities and as a result, bringing new people into the area. That said, this urban gentrification has come at a cost, attracting an influx of professionals who have contributed to increased rents and house prices.

In Peckham, bringing forward culture-led regeneration that caters to the trendier and more independent lifestyle has proved a solution for delivering wide-ranging social and economic benefits while keeping hold of the area’s long heritage. Amongst its developments, the Bussey Building marks one of the biggest changes in the area – what was once an abandoned warehouse is now a creative hub – comprising a range of facilities such as co-working spaces, yoga studios and art galleries.

Additionally, the construction of Peckham Levels saw the transformation of a multi-storey car park into 50 art studios, workshops, pop-up shops and event spaces, which shot to fame with the opening of Frank’s Café in 2009. This transformed a dramatically under-used car park into a thriving and eclectic environment where creative young businesses offer local people and visitors a place to socialise, as well as giving back to the community with workshops, work experience opportunities and a range of other initiatives.

In these examples, regeneration plans have responded effectively to both evolving market opportunities and local needs by focusing on community facilities and public space to preserve local heritage and cultural value. This is merely a snapshot of distinct, sustainable communities within our cities. Other areas are doing it successfully in different ways. The most important element is truly understanding what makes a place unique before looking to change it for the better.