My old alma mater, the University of East London (yes, I did my MBA there way back; so far back it was still a poly!), held a cracking seminar hosted by the London Legacy Development Corporation the other evening. It's title was "Beyond 2012: the Olympics and the Regeneration of East London". As the blurb said: "Over the last few decades East London has never been short of ambitious development projects and it now has an impressive set of elements (of varying success): a global financial centre, entertainments complex, exhibition centre and now the Olympic Park. These were unthinkable even 30 years ago." (btw: it was me that added the part in italics in the bracket, natch).
UEL's own Ralph Ward was in the chair (he's UKR's too, of course) and the speakers were those twin poles of luminosity: Martin Crookston, who managed the East Thames corridor for Michael Heseltine (and was the voice of reason on the Rogers Urban Task Force), and Eric Sorensen, who managed the Inner City Directorate of the old DoE before becoming one of the (there were only two who counted) transformational chief executives of the London Docklands Development Corporation. Nobody better really.
I don't often claim to speak for the entire regeneration lobby these days. It is now some years since I was elected to be chair of BURA, and since we had to collapse that fine body and form its legacy vehicle, UKR, I have not felt able to legitimately claim the strength of a democratic mandate. However, judging by the commentary and the Twitter feed, I think it is safe for me to speak for the entire regeneration community this morning: major and heartfelt congratulations (with dirty great knobs on) to George Ferguson for his brilliant achievement of being elected mayor of Bristol last Thursday. How wonderful that he can now claim the strength of a democratic mandate! And on a turnout that was about twice the national average for any of the elections held that day.
As said to anyone who would listen (and even those who wouldn't) on Friday: a great day for Bristol and a great day for urban regeneration!
One of the things about being a quasi-journalist is that I get all sorts of strange and diverting press releases coming across my screen each day. It can be a lot of fun. I was sent a rather entertaining thing this morning from an organisation called "Property Property Property" run by an outfit known as Juice PR.
They say they conduct a "monthly analysis of the most popular searched for borough". And in this morning's "study" they are claiming that Hackney has proven to be one of the most popular searched for boroughs among home seekers between 28 and 35 years.
Professor James Hunter (Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Highlands and Islands) has written a new and rather important book, From the low tide of the sea to the highest mountaintops, which marks the advance of community ownership in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (Jim Hunter is famous for having written The making of the crofting community, which has been in print for 35 years). In recent years, communities in certain remote parts of Scotland have taken ownership of more than half-a-million acres, an area equivalent to that of an English county such as West Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire. In places long characterised by contracting economies and shrinking populations, community ownership has resulted in new homes, new businesses, greatly enhanced self-confidence and the attraction of lots of new residents. It is a remarkable success, a breath of fresh air.
I'm not long on fresh air myself, having spent my entire career in inner city regeneration. And a lot of that in bars. But I had my own first experience of community ownership when working with local residents to regenerate Paddington. When we started to open up jobs and training opportunities to the local community, I found some staunch allies in the shape of the good peeps from Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH), the resident-controlled landlord of about 650 homes which was founded out of the campaign against Dame Shirley Porter's sale and demolition of council homes begun in the 1980s. And it would seem that the constitutional model used by WECH is much the same as that used by the Scottish community land transfers in places such as Gigha and Assynt and Eigg in the Outer Hebrides.
People often ask me what I think about "celebrity-led regeneration" and I have to confess to being somewhat schizophrenic about it all.
Of course, there have always been industry leaders heading government taskforces: luminaries spring to mind such as Lord Richard Rogers, Sir Neville Simms, Sir John Calcutt. And now Sir Adrian Montague. Such business minds bring their expertise, invite their private sector buddies to the table, and try and help government figure out how to tackle critical issues facing the design and construction industry. They write their reports, champion their findings, and then the civil service is meant to get on with implementing (at least those bits they agree with).