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Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SURGE (Social Sustainability and Urban Regeneration Governance: An International Perspective)


Cities in the 21st century are faced with increasingly complex challenges, reconciling the drive for economic growth with concerns related to social cohesion and inequalities. There is a growing tension between a globally focused urban growth agenda, which looks to maximise...


Cities in the 21st century are faced with increasingly complex challenges, reconciling the drive for economic growth with concerns related to social cohesion and inequalities. There is a growing tension between a globally focused urban growth agenda, which looks to maximise investment and economic prosperity, and the growing socio-spatial inequalities, related to housing affordability, access to public services and social justice. Currently, these tensions are particularly manifest in the arena of urban regeneration, where the conflicting interplay of public, private and civil society interests impacts on governance mechanisms. Despite a number of academic studies exploring urban regeneration governance in specific national contexts, there is a lack of cross-national comparative research exploring how specific governance processes contribute to more socially sustainable projects that reconcile the inherent tensions in regeneration between economic drivers and social inequalities.

The key objective of this project is to address this important gap, with an international comparative study of urban regeneration governance in the UK and Canada. It adopts an innovative comparative research framework, and employs an arts-based participatory method, photovoice, to critically examine stakeholder involvement in regeneration governance processes in two different global contexts. It explores whether, and how, participatory processes through creative and arts-based methods, contribute to more socially just regeneration projects, and ultimately, their impact on a city’s ability to build a more socially sustainable future.

The project’s scientific objectives are as follows:
1. To review the national institutional, political, economic and socio-cultural frameworks and policy discourses, in Canada and the UK, as context for the research;
2. To develop an innovative theoretical and conceptual framework for the analysis of urban governance, that integrates interdisciplinary theoretical approaches from planning, geography, sociology and political science;
3. To apply this theoretical framework to explore the dynamics of urban regeneration governance in the two different national contexts, taking case studies in the cities of Vancouver and London;
4. To assess how and to what extent different components of governance within specific urban regeneration settings provide openings for socially just outcomes;
5. To maximise the impact of the research, through a three month secondment at “European Alternatives”, a Paris-based NGO that works closely with practitioners and communities in regeneration areas throughout the EU;
6. To disseminate the findings to a wide audience (academics, policy-makers and the general public), including organising an impact workshop in each city, as well as drafting practical recommendations for practitioners and user groups on how regeneration projects can be delivered in a more socially sustainable way.

Work performed

The first two years of the project (2017-2019) took place at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, within the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP). The initial work involved an extensive literature review, to explore the different institutional, economic, socio-cultural, political and governance contexts in the two countries of Canada and the UK. This was complemented by a further exploration of the city level context in Vancouver, through literature reviews and interviews with key actors in the public sector and civil society, to build up a narrative of governance in the city. Within Vancouver, two neighbourhoods were selected for further exploration, Renfew Collingwood and the Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods, to examine the role that creative practice can play in governance and participation. A series of photovoice workshops was held in each neighbourhood, to explore the meaning of the local area for participants, through the embodied practice of walking through the neighbourhood and capturing images that were significant for the participants. An exhibition of the resulting photographs was held in the Downtown Eastside, together with a stakeholder knowledge exchange event where participants discussed the method of photovoice, and how it contributed to their understanding of the neighbourhood. The third year of the project (2019-2020) will involve similar photovoice exercises in two communities in the UK, to provide an international comparison of the two different contexts.

Final results

The emerging results from the two photovoice workshops in Vancouver suggest that as a methodology, it offers the means through which participants can express their views in a more fluid way. By distributing cameras to community members in the framework of a workshop, they were given opportunities to share their experiences through different modes, and were freed up to explore their neighbourhood in alternative ways. This embodied practice of walking through and photographing their neighbourhood allowed them to see familiar places in a different frame, and insights emerged that they shared with other participants. This has implications for participation and neighbourhood governance, as photovoice and other arts-based methods potentially have the capacity to offer alternative means of hearing the voices of those normally excluded from participatory practices. It also has implications for social sustainability, as a mode of building understanding between participants and communities. These emerging findings will be developed, in the light of the case studies in the UK that will be carried out during 2019-2020.

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