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"Urban Regeneration Governance for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Cities: An International Comparison of France and the UK"

Final Report Summary - GOV_SSI (Urban Regeneration Governance for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Cities: An International Comparison of France and the UK)

Publishable summary:

European cities are faced with complex challenges in urban governance, integrating the many and varied voices of the city into governance frameworks. This is particularly the case in the arena of urban regeneration, where often conflicting public, private and civil society interests are involved in governance processes at the neighbourhood level. The objectives of the research were to explore the governance of urban regeneration in different institutional contexts, and the role of varied stakeholders in contributing to a sustainable city. More precisely, the project aimed to critically analyse mechanisms for urban regeneration governance, including the interaction of public, private and civil society actors; to analyse the impact of these local governance mechanisms in contributing to a more sustainable city in the wider sense; and to provide policy and research recommendations from the project.

The research took a cross-national comparative perspective, exploring urban regeneration governance in the two contexts of France and the UK. The differences between the two countries offer interesting contrasts, given the distinct approaches to the question of legitimacy of public intervention. In France, intervention is based on public interest as enshrined in the constitution, whereas in the UK, with no written constitution, public intervention is based on a more evolutionary pragmatic approach. There are also interesting contrasts between the cultures of traditionally top-down (in France) versus bottom-up (in the UK) approaches to urban questions, which impact on the role of participatory as opposed to representative democracy at the neighbourhood level in the two national cases.

Within a participatory framework, in order to understand citizen engagement in governance processes at the neighbourhood level, we make reference to Gaventa’s work on “spaces of participation” which proposes a typology of different approaches to participation, around the notion of spaces. Firstly, “closed or uninvited spaces” are where bureaucrats, experts, and elected representative make decisions with little broad consultation or involvement. Secondly, “invited spaces” are where people are invited by various authorities to participate in decision-making. Thirdly, there are “claimed or created spaces” which are spaces claimed by less powerful actors from or against the power holders, or created more autonomously by them. By exploring these “spaces of participation”, we can better understand the potential for transformative engagement by citizens in regeneration, and possible strategies for empowering residents to have a voice in the future of their city.

Description of the work performed:

To achieve the project objectives, an extensive literature review was undertaken, to review the different institutional, political, economic and socio-cultural contexts in the two countries. This has been complemented by a further review of city and neighbourhood governance structures in the four selected case study cities (two in each country). Discourse analysis was used to examine key documents, to explore the meaning behind the policy texts related to urban governance, participation and regeneration, and to elucidate the rationale behind each text in relation to power structures and dominant axes of understanding. In-depth interviews were carried out with key policy actors in each city, as well as at the national level, to build up an ‘urban governance narrative’ for each city. Finally, at the neighbourhood level, in-depth interviews and focus groups were carried out at with key stakeholders at the project level and with residents in each case study area, to explore issues of participation and the interaction between actors in each setting.

Description of main results:

The results show that while community engagement in both France and the UK is held up to be desirable, in France, there appears to be a gap between rhetoric in policy documents, and reality on the ground. In France, there is a deeply embedded attachment to the concept of representative democracy, with elected councillors and the figurehead of the Mayor seen as the rightful decision-makers in issues related to the urban environment. This means that participatory practices are less wide-spread in France than in the UK. However, the definition of participation in France is less engaging than in the UK, with the expectation being (at least from the Mairies) that participation involves consultation and information exchange rather than more inclusive co-construction of urban projects. There have however been recent moves in France to integrate residents more closely into decision-making processes in the city, through the newly constituted Citizens’ Councils, a national initiative, although it is too early to say what the impact of these councils will be. On the other hand, in the UK, while residents are encouraged to take part in participatory processes around regeneration, there are limits to citizen engagement in relation to the type of people that get involved, the integration of ‘unheard voices’ in the process, and the concrete impact that residents can have in steering the direction of a project. This can lead to disillusionment with participatory processes, and disengagement with the political system. This impacts on the potential for constructing a socially sustainable city for the future.

Conclusions and potential impact and use:

One of the questions to arise from this research is whether participatory democracy is compatible with the French notion of representative democracy. Due to the role of the State in French society, a particular version of participatory democracy has evolved, which allows for dialogue in “invited spaces” in relation to the micro-details of a regeneration project, but which denies citizens access to engage with more strategic questions around a regeneration programme. To shift this in the future would require a more inclusive form of citizen engagement involving a more open approach to participation, and a greater willingness on the part of elected councils to reconfigure the dynamics of power, and integrate citizens’ voices into decision-making structures at all stages. This would require sufficient resources to allow the necessary time to engage with different groups, using suitably adapted methods to open up meaningful involvement in “spaces of participation” to all. In the UK, despite a more open system of urban governance that embraces participation, there are still barriers to engagement that persist. This is despite the current government’s approach to neighbourhood planning, which although encouraging local level involvement, in fact serves to reinforce inequalities and divisions around access to resources and decision-making.

In relation to policy implications, it is interesting to reflect on the potential for cross-national comparisons to shed light on different practices in different cultural settings. Rather than emphasizing the differences between countries, it is useful to concentrate on the similarities between the different national contexts, holding up a mirror to each case to help understand the different systems. Through this method, new insights into different approaches to participatory governance can be explored, and their potential policy implications for cities examined, not just applicable to France and the UK, but also to other contexts in the EU and elsewhere.

Overall, the project has contributed to scientific understanding through an in-depth analysis of regeneration governance from a cross national perspective. Furthermore, the project has opened up the French experiences of regeneration governance to UK academics and practitioners in particular, and to a wider audience in general through publications, presentations and seminars.

Project website:

Contact details:
Research fellow:
Dr Juliet Carpenter
Department of Planning, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, OX3 0BP, UK

Scientist in charge:
Dr Roelof Verhage
Insitut d’Urbanisme de Lyon, 14 Avenue Berthelot, 69007, Lyon, France
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