Observations on Regeneration
When we base ‘regeneration’ on realising rent values in areas where the poor currently live, but the rich want to, we push poor people out. We don’t solve any problems we just re-locate them to areas where escape from those problems is likely to be made even more difficult.
My best efforts to ‘make a business of improving people through enterprise and effort’ have resulted in endeavours like Progress School, Elsie, Innovation Lab, Community Conversations, Enterprise Coaching and so on. All of these are designed to be accessible to anyone who is looking to make progress for themselves.
The sad truth is that we have wasted millions on telling people that their future lies in self employment and entrepreneurship without ever taking the time to listen respectfully to who they are and what they want.
I have yet to see a regeneration programme that is centred on a respectful engagement of, and response to, individuals who are seeking to make progress without making prior assumptions about means.
I have yet to see a programme that takes seriously the need to help individuals build networks to make lasting changes in how they operate (these networks provide the bedrock for that holy grail we call community).
I have yet to see a programme that recognises that the poor are in every neighbourhood.
I have yet to see a programme that accepts this is long term work. I do remember an RDA director saying that we should not expect too much from an £80m public investment in a Leeds regen project because we are only 15 years into the project….but this is not a defence that is generally accepted!
Our communities are full of ‘outsiders intervening’ and I see this as a major problem. Professional ‘experts’ shipped in to sort out the locals. If people don’t want to be helped we should leave them alone. And we should only work where we are invited; where individuals really want us to help, because they have seen the value of our work. And how many of the mainstream providers offer services that are valued by those they are purporting to help? Very few in my experience.
We do know how to make progress on this stuff and the approaches are affordable and replicable. The key barrier to their development is that the beneficiaries of these approaches have little power, financially or politically, to compete effectively with the mainstream regeneration lobby. Those that influence investment in regeneration are those that control landbanks and their professional service firm partners. Just look at the sponsors of any regeneration conference or local enterprise partnership ‘summit’ and you will see who can afford to invest now to profit later. And they wont be talking about person centred approaches to change. They will be talking about building infrastructure and moulding people to meet the needs of employers (they call this ‘the skills agenda’).
And they wonder why our communities are not more enterprising!
Is it possible to reap a dividend from the success of others? I have much sympathy for the idea. However the journey to ‘break-even’ is often a long one, certainly months if not years. More likely decades before any consistent ‘dividend’ is generated. Few of us doing this work can afford to defer our payments for that long! If you want a quick return on your investment you work with those that already have money and have the shortest journey to break even. Peter Jones and Doug Richards and their ilk are not daft in who they pitch their enterprise products to.
In the current system it is almost impossible to realise any value from working on the enterprise agenda with those that most need our support.