URBED was founded in 1976, the same year that the inner city was discovered. Our history since then has mirrored the fortunes the UK’s towns and cities. To mark our anniversary we organised a series of debates around the country in places where we have worked. The articles in this category were written after each of these events to explore the issues raised.
There had, of course been urban policies before 1976. These focused on housing, economic development, roads and transport and they affected cities in as much as urban areas needed to be reformed: Slums had to be cleared, new towns had to be built to relieve the pressures for growth, town centres had to be redeveloped and ring roads built to cater with the ever greater number of cars. But the assumption underlying all of theses policies was that cities would always grow and that the role of public policy was to control and manage the unfortunate consequences of this growth.
By the early 1970s it was, however, becoming increasingly clear that some parts of cities were no longer growing, indeed they had started to decline. A ring had appeared between city centres and their suburbs as industry closed down and populations moved to the suburbs. This ring, which became known as the inner city, was characterised by economic collapse, dereliction and deprivation.
The Labour government responded in 1976 by starting work on its Inner Cities White Paper. Championed by the Secretary of State Peter Shore, this was the first policy initiative to focus on geographical areas (the inner city) as opposed to individual policy areas. The White Paper published the following year and subsequent Inner Cities Act introduced the idea of urban regeneration, partnership working and funding through the Urban Programme.
At the same time URBED was established by its founder directors, Nicholas Falk and Christopher Cadell. Nicholas had contributed to government thinking through a Fabian Society pamphlet on the inner cities and URBED (the Urban and Economic Development Group) was established as one of the UK’s first consultancies in the new field of urban regeneration. URBED was set up as a not-for-profit practice combining research with practical consultancy and hands-on development. As the urban regeneration sector grew it became one of many practices and consultancies working in the field but is one of the very few still to be still in practice today.
So in 2016 both inner city policy in the UK and URBED are 40 years old. This seems like a good time to take stock of the changes that have taken place over those 40 years in our towns and cities. Our early work may have been focussed on the inner city, but it soon spread to city centres, historic areas and even suburbs. We progressed from projects to darn the occasional tear in the urban fabric to an understanding that the inner city was just a symptom of a wider malaise that was threatening our towns and cities. The seven events included:
- Covent Garden, London – The first regeneration area
- Little Germany, Bradford – Rescuing industrial heritage
- The Highbury Initiative, Birmingham – How to lose your ring road and find your city centre?
- New England Quarter, Brighton – Rethinking the masterplan
- Hulme, Manchester – A sustainable urban neighbourhood?
- Cambridge’s Quality Charter – How to promote quality housing
- Bankside London – Whatever happened to enterprise development?
The write ups for the first five of these events are published on this blog. The last two have been written up by Nicholas Falk and are available at his blog, Postcards from the Future.