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Urban Renewal: Social Aspects in Planning


A challenge in the discourse on urban renewal is that various groups define urban
renewal in different ways. We define urban renewal as a process of rehabilitation and
improvement of the existing built fabric using a variety of tools, while examining both
the physical condition of the buildings, and the social condition of the residents.
These planning tools may include, inter alia: renovation of existing buildings without
additional floors or units (as was done in Project Renewal1 ); expanding existing
apartments; densifying by adding floors and units to existing buildings; new
construction in open spaces between buildings; demolition of existing buildings to
make way for new construction (raze-and-rebuild schemes); and renovation of public
infrastructure and upgrading of public areas, shared spaces (such as yards, parking
lots or lobbies of buildings), and public buildings. Addressing the social issues must
begin with a social survey of the existing population of each compound, which will
serve as a database for the municipality when it outlines its urban renewal policy, and
for the planners and professionals implementing this policy. 1 Project Renewal was an
effort instituted by government decision in 1977 to rehabilitate
neighborhoods/communities which were both socio-economically weak and
physically rundown. The project was multidisciplinary, involving rehabilitation of
buildings and infrastructure along with social assistance to residents. In addition, on
the basis of the survey results, social tools may include community work2 with the
existing population, public participation in planning, providing access to health care
and education, vocational training and help in finding jobs. Urban development must
integrate treatment of the individual building with a wider urban vision. The goal is to
create a social mix over a wide area; to identify lands throughout the area for
transference of building rights3 ; to balance the added residential construction with
added sources of municipal income (such as industrial zones), which will finance the
construction of necessary public buildings; and to locate land for the public spaces
and public buildings required to serve the additional population. In Israel, the
planning authorities encourage urban renewal projects that focus only on the physical
aspect, with the goal of densifying existing urban space and adding residential units.
The approach currently used by the Israeli planning authorities gives priority to
raze-and-rebuild schemes, meaning the demolition of old buildings and construction
of new ones with significantly larger building rights in their place. This track is often
seen as an appropriate response for rundown neighborhoods built in the 50s and 60s
of the 20th century, and for the contemporary need to increase the urban density in
existing cities. However, the prevailing tendency to present raze-and-rebuild as a
“win-win” scenario is problematic, since it ignores potential long-term physical and
social implications of such schemes. It is therefore vital to understand the social
complexity of urban renewal processes prior to any intervention in the existing fabric.
In addition to raze-and-rebuild schemes (of two types: raze-then-rebuild, and
buildthen-raze-then-rebuild) there are other types of urban renewal in Israel today,
such as expanding existing buildings, and National Outline Plan 38 – a country-wide
plan for strengthening buildings against earthquakes4 . These tracks all provide new
apartments in older neighborhoods, leading to higher densification. There is also, to a
very limited extent, the Neighborhood Renewal project, which does not include the
addition of new housing units. 2 Work with the community to acquaint residents with
the urban renewal process and its implications, and to learn the needs of the
population. 3 Under the present strategy, the units added to a complex are sold to
offset the cost of renewal and to provide income for the developer, who therefore
requires large building rights to ensure financial viability. The suggestion here is to
compensate the developers with building rights in other areas, thus lowering the
density in the areas for renewal. 4 Similarly to other renewal schemes, developers are
able to add units for sale to offset the cost of strengthening the building and to provide
additional profit. Researching cases from around the world has shown us that urban
renewal is one of the most important issues on the planning agenda of many countries.
In most cases, urban renewal is carried out in socio-economically disadvantaged
neighborhoods whose social and physical condition is poor. However, there is a
public and professional debate about the fine line between renewal which serves the
residents, and renewal that leads to gentrification; that is, forcing out weaker residents
while stronger residents move in. A surprising conclusion of our international review
was that the vast majority of razeand-rebuild projects are carried out for buildings
belonging to public housing. In many countries, razing and rebuilding a complex in
which the majority of apartments are privately owned would not be considered.
Moreover, the case of high-rise residential buildings (other than luxury apartment
complexes) in which apartments are privately owned, is relatively rare in Western
Europe. Raze-and-rebuild projects in other countries are regarded primarily as a
means to upgrade and improve the quality of public housing and are considered from
that perspective. In Israel, the percentage of public housing apartments in urban
renewal projects is very low. Most of the apartments are privately owned, and
therefore the improvement of public housing is not considered at all. How might
urban renewal be carried out without excluding the existing population? Is it possible
to encourage the transition of "strong" families into areas with “weak” populations
while creating a social mix, in such a way that existing residents can stay in the
renewed neighborhood? This goal is difficult to achieve in practice. Improvement of
these neighborhoods ought to primarily serve the existing local residents. Cases of
demolition and rebuilding ought to include mechanisms for moderating gentrification,
for instance by building low-cost affordable housing for existing residents. Low-cost
housing would provide a solution for people who do not own their apartments, and
who are therefore not entitled to compensation as part of urban renewal projects,
particularly renters and public housing residents. This report also includes
recommendations for carrying out socially conscious urban renewal. There are two
types of recommendations; "principled recommendations” and “practical
recommendations”. The principled recommendations concern fundamental change in
the agenda and policies of planning for urban renewal. Such a policy change would
allow the entire population to benefit from the improvements of urban renewal. It
means giving urban renewal a social goal, which stresses upgrading the living
conditions of existing residents and ensuring that they be able to enjoy the benefits of
that upgrade. To ensure reaching this goal, it is crucial that a survey be carried out
before any urban renewal plan is undertaken, to examine the socio-economic situation
of the existing residents, their needs and desires, and the impact of the future
construction on them, according to a variety of parameters (and not only the economic
parameter). This survey would allow local authorities to choose appropriate planning
solutions, which in some cases should be complemented by multidisciplinary projects
to deal with the residents’ other needs. Projects carried out in such a manner may also
be consistent with the densification of urban space and the addition of residential units,
but the aims will be different from those practiced today, and the results are therefore
likely to be different in different communities. Changing policy would also require a
change in how such projects are funded. Meeting the needs of the existing population,
including in matters not related to planning, will require public funding and will thus
reduce the power of the market in determining the character of the construction.
Reducing the strength of the market would allow other actors to express themselves,
particularly the existing residents. Today, in many cases, the residents are neither
informed of, nor aware of, the consequences and implications of the projects in which
they are involved, and do not participate in decision making processes. The change
being proposed here thus requires significant public participation. We recommend the
following measures to implement planning policies for socially responsible urban
renewal: • Requiring the local authority to make an assessment of the housing needs •
Requiring preparation of a social/community impact study • Requiring
implementation of in-depth public participation in the urban renewal project •
Implementing integrated urban renewal through multi-disciplinary intervention •
Adoption of a combined approach - a combination of renovating existing buildings
and demolishing the old to make way for the new • Encouraging public-private
cooperation, and setting up non-profit housing organizations • Providing incentives to
homeowners to renovate and expand existing buildings. Our practical
recommendations concern the various ways to integrate the residents' needs and
desires into the proposed planning. Sometimes these needs are not in line with the
proposed plans, especially when those plans propose radical change to the existing
buildings. The recommendations presented here concern the possibility of adapting
the proposed change to existing tenants, whether by a more moderate densification of
the proposed construction, or by providing practical solutions to be formulated after
learning the needs of residents, and in partnership with them. The premise of these
practical recommendations is that even in the current situation, when a change in
policy seems unlikely, it is still possible to improve existing urban renewal strategies.
The guiding rationale is that plans with less extreme changes will be more considerate
of existing residents, and will reduce the level of gentrification. However, even in
cases of razing and rebuilding, it is still possible to improve the social success of the
project by taking these measures: • Conditioning the right of developers to build on
State land (for sale on the open market), on their involvement in rehabilitating
rundown areas. • The possibility of transferring building rights (see above, footnote 3).
• Implementing "integrated projects" which combine urban renewal and new
construction. Even in raze-and-rebuild schemes requiring high-density new
construction to offset costs, it is still possible to introduce mechanisms to lower the
levels of densification, in order to lessen the social difficulties involved in such
projects: • State funding of projects, using part of the development costs that would be
invested for a similar number of units if they were constructed on un-built land. 5 •
Provision of additional incentives to reduce construction costs. In summary, in order
to implement urban renewal, which also meets social goals, the planning must be
derived from the social goals. The building style, height and density should be
determined in relation to each compound’s unique characteristics. It should be taken
into account that high-rise construction means high maintenance costs, and measures
should be taken to enable existing tenants to be able to afford the costs of remaining
there. We therefore recommend that urban renewal projects combine buildings of
different heights, including some whose height does not exceed nine residential floors.
Instead of determining the density of urban renewal projects only on the basis of
economic feasibility, accepted planning criteria should be considered in proposing
adequate public buildings and public spaces; upgrading existing infrastructure; and
prevention of excluding the existing population in favor of a more affluent population.
Urban renewal ought to be part of a strategy of strengthening communities in general,
5 Research has shown that the cost to the government of establishing infrastructure
for a new project (on open land) is about 153,000 NIS per unit, while the cost in
existing neighborhoods is only 38,000 NIS. We recommend investing part of the
money thus “saved” in funding the needed renewal, lowering the need to increase the
density to cover costs. disadvantaged communities in particular, and integrating them
into the renewed urban fabric.

It really depends what you goals are. If your goal is beautification of an existing well
located area, a tax rebate for repair of buildings might be enough.

If your goal though is to add new public services, or uplift a neglected, poorly
functioning area, you'll need to do more work.

The critical factor is to know the area really well. Get as much information as possible
about the structures, resources and geography. All the inputs and outputs basically.

Knowing the area really well means that you must understand and work with the local
land users. You can use many methods to understand where people work, how they
move, how they use public space, what works and what doesn't. Community mapping,
participatory action research, walk throughs, modeling, voting, card exercises etc. Just
make sure you deviate from the podium style town hall meeting to get people actually
working and thinking.

This is probably going to be harder than understanding the geography. The residents
may be mistrustful, due to neglect or broken promises of previous area administrators.
They may also have their own agendas and try to co-opt the project in some way. The
land users may get some of their power from the current state of the area and may
actively try and avoid development. e.g. Slum lords, drug dealers, land speculators,
owners of noxious industries.
The people who show up to meetings generally have agendas, there may be a
sprinkling of well intentioned citizens, but for the most part people are protecting their
interests. This is okay, usually you can find a middle ground and common vision
where both interests will be served. You will likely find as many resources amongst
powerful locals as you do conflicts.

The principle though is to plan for the most vulnerable so that the area works for
everyone. This may require you to conduct household surveys so you access the views
of people who can't go to town hall meetings e.g. Working mothers, children and
child headed households, sick people etc.

You will then have to structure the planning and changes so that community members
feel a sense of ownership and are invested in making it work.

So the hardest work for urban renewal is usually done before a brick gets laid. Don't
try to skip the involvement of locals and impose your ideas on them. Be humble and
prepared to change your views, you don't know the place like them and the story of
ignoring local space and community dynamics is the story of every "white elephant"
Urban renewal – benefits and critiques

Urban renewal can generate a range of benefits - better utilisation of existing and
proposed infrastructure; increased city productivity from the co-location of more
intensive jobs and housing; attracting visitors and additional expenditure; and new
employment opportunities. Renewal projects that set clear delivery or efficiency
targets can also offer more sustainable development through lower greenhouse
emissions and more affordable housing compared to ‘business as usual’.
However there have been criticisms of large scale urban renewal processes. For
instance, in a recent paper, Mike Harris argues that “…large scale urban projects
represent a new way of planning the city that is centrally concerned with marketing
and the provision of competitive infrastructure….much of today’s city making is
undertaken by delivering a list of big, often disconnected projects with the primary
aim of attracting investment, the benefits of which are almost always reaped by the
private sector.” [1]
Harris documents many critiques of operational aspects of these projects – a global
rather than local focus; minimal commitment to socially just policies; and
business-like governance processes that are undemocratic and don’t provide
opportunities for public participation. He also notes wide criticism of their built
outcomes - for instance, being similar in look and feel; typically being made up of
large office buildings, luxury residential apartments and iconic architecture rather
than diverse uses; lacking the layering of old and new, small and big; often
disconnected from the surrounding city; containing lifeless, predictable and
controllable public spaces; and indifferent to specificities and uniqueness of context.
Best practice principles
There is no single way to undertake urban renewal, as it depends on the local context
and circumstances. But it is reasonable to expect that the ‘public interest’ would be a
starting driver for action. After all, without a public interest motive there would be no
need for government action or intervention to facilitate renewal. And the criticisms of
current urban renewal processes show clearly why a public interest perspective is
A recent SGS study[2] drew from case studies (Elephant and Castle, and King’s Cross,
London; Barangaroo, Sydney; Docklands, Melbourne; Hafen City, Hamburg; and
Brooklyn Navy Yards, New York) and other examples, to distill a set of core best
practice or ‘desirable’ principles, with a public interest perspective, that can be
adapted for most circumstances to guide the philosophy of renewal.
1. Create ‘shared value’ for the long term public interest

The history of the city and the long struggle for rights in the city tells us that a
re-made area can’t belong to any one group or individual, but has to offer shared
value to multiple stakeholders. Who has a stake in the creation of the shared value?
In global cities or cities of national or regional importance, the community of
stakeholders stretches on a continuum from the global community (where
stakeholders may be corporations or government agencies who view projects as ways
to generate profits and brand development opportunities), all the way through to the
current and future local community or residents, who are the ‘everyday’ of the project.
This principle argues that those who are part of the city - visitors, children, the
underprivileged, workers and students – should benefit from the increasing value
urban renewal can generate, along with investors. These benefits extend to new
community facilities, the reclamation of public space, etc.
Ultimately, the ‘communities’ for whom the value is created to share, should be those
with long-term interests, not transient stakeholders with a primary focus on value
extraction and repatriation. It is evident that private involvement must make a return
on investment in order to deliver these projects. However, the community that must
live in and interact with the resultant developments should also gain value from this
2. Develop the plan with stakeholders

Part of delivering on the shared value idea is to engage with the community and
establish meaningful stakeholder engagement and representation in preparing the
Urban renewal within an existing community should share the development of vision
and planning from an early stage, to encourage ownership within the community.
Renewal projects without a direct incumbent community (a redevelopment of
industrial lands, for example) should heavily invest in information-sharing to raise
awareness and acceptance of the process across the wider urban community.
A balance needs to be struck between community engagement which is narrowly
focussed on local short term interests, and that which draws out local knowledge and
historical commitments to inform and underpin planning. This ‘balancing act’ can be
greatly assisted by adopting rigorous, transparent and holistic appraisal methods
which can provide a common for all stakeholders in the planning and evaluation
process. To be truly influential in the debate, the community stakeholders themselves
need to engage with key decision-making techniques such as cost benefit analysis,
which can be utilised to promote community and non-financial values.
Engagement should continue, in the development of a vision, the setting of objectives,
preparation and evaluation of options, and detailed planning for a preferred option.


Source: Allies and Morrison, 2014

3. Take a long term view

Where planning and delivery time frames for major renewal projects are
unrealistically compressed it is likely that the project rationale and objectives may be
misguided. City building cannot be put ‘on fast forward’ or made to fit an electoral or
development cycle, for example.
Some precincts may have short term prospects to satisfy particular hot property
markets or meet pressing objectives, but in general a long term view should be
adopted. Enduring and authentic development will take time: a commitment to the
public interest and shared value necessitates an inclusive approach, and future
development stages should have the flexibility to be able to adapt to market and social
changes. Plans for stages beyond say 10 years should be less prescriptive.
4. Agree the non-negotiables, including design standards

There is rarely a ‘blank canvas’ in planning for the future. Policies may have to be
satisfied; and community expectations need to be codified for the precinct. Existing
tenants’ or leaseholders’ rights need to be respected, and undisputed urban design
standards need to be settled. ‘Non-negotiables’ must be agreed, to frame and inform
the planning process which is generating the development options. For example,
non-negotiables might include respect for existing lease terms; protection of key
public domain from overshadowing by new buildings; or social mix and a
commitment to a fixed share of affordable housing.


Source: Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, 2014

5. Agree a reasonable financial profile – minimising up-front costs and de-risking
development while providing an appropriate return on government land and
infrastructure investments

Agreeing how the renewal site is expected to perform from a financial perspective not
only starts setting the parameters for the generation of development options, but is
also fundamental to whether public interest outcomes are served.
When contemplating urban renewal strategies for large, government owned sites,
financial returns to Government can trump the economic, social and environmental
returns to the community at large. Governments can prioritise high yield private
sector propositions over land use mixes that are more advantageous for the economic
development of the region, or tend to trade off long term value gain in the precinct –
in terms of cash returns to the State – for an up-front payment.
To overcome this problem, State Governments might look at several options. They
could develop the land in joint ventures, where the State retains an equity stake
(arrangements which can work well where the land in question has prime
development potential). They could sell development rights with value sharing
arrangements built in, so that the community gains a share of rising property prices.
Or the land could be leased, instead of selling the freehold. The lease period would
need to be lengthy to attract substantial investment – say 50 years plus – but
ultimately the value created via public investment in infrastructure would flow back to
the community. And they could introduce deferred infrastructure charges, which
provide an incentive for early investment and retain the capacity to garner some of the
uplift in land value over time.
The aim is to recognise that the government is best placed to carry early development
risk associated with planning, providing the infrastructure, and preparing the site for
development, because the beneficiaries are distributed widely - beyond the site and
through different generations. This inevitably means that some up-front financing
should be provided by government but also, that as land is sold and private sector
development proceeds, the government should be entitled to an appropriate share of
the land value realised, to fund a return on its early investment.
6. Establish clear development objectives

With a clear understanding of the development rationale and the non-negotiables, the
planning process involving engagement with stakeholders, should develop and
confirm clear objectives. The best objectives are not ‘motherhood statements’ but
anticipate physical, economic and social outcomes in the place of focus. To this end
they should be measurable.


Source: Southwark Council, 2012
7. Establish clear development options to meet objectives

There may be multiple ways to achieve objectives. A rigorous planning process

involves the development and evaluation of multiple possible future options. The
options cannot be properly evaluated unless a ‘base case’ is also established. A base
case estimates what might happen without the urban renewal intervention or project.
The development options identified through the planning process can then be
compared to the base case and a much clearer picture of marginal benefits and costs
associated with any particular development option will emerge.
8. Embody ‘localness’ and reintegrate with surrounds

One of the major critiques of major urban renewal projects is the way that the desire
to build an economic ‘brand’ through the renewal process leads to homogenous urban
landscapes, interchangeable with any number of other global renewal projects.
Ultimately though, reputation derives from the extent to which an authentic local
‘vibe’ is captured, and then projected nationally or globally. Local distinctiveness,
derived from the street pattern, services, landscape, climate and socio-cultural
idiosyncrasies (among others) should be embedded in the vision for renewal projects
so as to create identity and engender community acceptance.

Source: http://www.hafencity.com

9. Evaluate options from a holistic perspective with the aim of maximising net
community benefits

Development options should be tested from a holistic, society wide perspective, so as

to maximise net community benefits. This will involve the use of rigorous cost benefit
analysis (CBA) which evaluates the marginal differences in costs and benefits of the
different development options, compared to a ‘business as usual’ or ‘base case’.
Unfortunately economics is often seen as the ‘enemy’, involving the elevation of short
term financial gain over the long term interests of the city. But this misunderstands its
potential in the urban renewal context where it can be used to evaluate the
contribution of different potential options to social or community wellbeing.
The CBA technique compares the traded benefits (explicit financial returns generated
by the development) and the non traded benefits (received by parties external to the
immediate financial transaction), with the traded costs (direct labour, land and capital
invested in the project) and non-traded costs (felt by external parties as a result of the
construction or operation of the project once complete). This identifies whether there
is a surplus of benefits over costs. Using well established and rigorous techniques, this
means it is possible to value items which the community typically rates highly such as
open space, social capital, urban amenity, and heritage/culture.
Not all aspects or impacts can be valued quantitatively, but a CBA also requires the
documentation of non-quantifiable costs and benefits so these can be considered in the
ledger. Without using such techniques it may be that financial considerations or
otherwise vague community aims, end up dominating choices between options. This
does not necessarily allow for judgements serving the long term public interest.
10. Align procurement model with the planning vision

Ultimately the governance, implementation and procurement path – the way the
development proceeds - should be determined by the planning vision. The aims and
objectives should drive a bespoke rather than off the shelf approach to procurement.
In general, an approach which allows for as many owners, architects, investors and
developers as possible, is more likely to deliver the shared value, authenticity and
diversity that a planning vision will usually embrace. To achieve this it may mean that
the government has a greater role as infrastructure provider and developer, prior to
multiple private sector players becoming involved in individual housing or
commercial projects.
It may be that a smaller project, with a more limited range of objectives, would opt for
a single developer solution (not necessarily a single architect solution because the
developer may choose their own subdivision and development approach).
These principles are not locked in place, but are guiding principles to ensure urban
renewal benefits the widest community possible. The renewal of strategically
important urban sites must have the needs of communities, both social and
commercial, at its core.