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Diva’s discussion of analysing the economic background of a place is a very interesting and incredibly important topic. Determining the demographics, income and wealth, culture and heritage, site and location, resources and market potential are essential in ensuring good urban design. As Oswell (2013) puts it, applying these six domains to “any new build or regeneration proposal will provided a clear understanding of the socioeconomic potential of the said proposal”.

Diva focusses her post on the third domain – culture and heritage – something which often dominates and limits urban design and regeneration. I am going to explore the potentially negative effects of applying too much focus on the culture and heritage of a place, using an extract from Rem Koolhaas’ book S, M, L, XL (1994).

Rem Koolhaas is well-known for being one of the most controversial architects out there, having stated in S, M, L, XL (1994) that we should “simply abandon what doesn’t work – what has outlived its use.” Admittedly, this is an extreme approach to urban regeneration, but he makes a valid point when highlighting that culture and heritage become less meaningful when users exhaust it. Successful urban regeneration requires us to consider the culture and heritage of a place, to appreciate it and to understand it, but not to let it dictate the future of the place.

Diva states how understanding the culture and heritage of a place is a crucial part of successful urban design, and she is correct, drawing on a fantastic example of the Nottingham Lace Market. The Lace Market, once the heart of the world’s lace industry, is now booming with over 450 businesses, and Diva highlights how a quarter of them still remain fashion related. One wonders, however, how successful the Lace Market would have been had the local council tried to maintain the quarter as purely a fashion industry, as it once was. This brings me back to Koolhaas (1994) who questions why we should be constrained to the history of a site. In this instance, clearly that wasn’t the case.

Case Study – Shoreditch

An example of a ‘place’ which has been subject to culture-led urban regeneration is the Shoreditch region of East London. Around 20 years ago, Shoreditch was a relatively quiet location, full of “creative people, studios and designers” (Ransom Note, 2016). Shoreditch still has an incredible sense of an artistic and creative culture about it, and because of this, has become a hugely popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, with tourism comes large-scale investment, and Shoreditch has since seen the influx of chain stores, big-name coffee shops and luxury apartments. Benedict Seymour (2009) firmly states that in 2004 “the government finally admitted that Shoreditch was not the success story that they had claimed. No, it was an example of ‘failed cultural regeneration’.” He also states how “the report noted the ‘failure’ of the gentrification process to deliver improved services or housing for the poor.”

Shoreditch’s independent pop-up stores – Suitcase (2015)

Proposal for a new 40-storey luxury apartment block (Wainwright, 2016)

Clearly, culture and heritage should be carefully considered during any urban regeneration scheme, but it should not be the dictating factor as this can result in seriously detrimental effects.

 

References

Koolhaas R, Mau B, 1994. S, M, L, XL, New York, Monacelli Press.

Oswell A, 2013. Urban Design Economic Assessment Tool kit, Portland Community Regeneration Ltd.

Seymour B, 2009. Shoreditch and the Creative Destruction of the Inner City. [Online]
Variant.org.uk
Available at: http://www.variant.org.uk/34texts/shoreditch34.html
[Accessed 20 Jan 2017]

Steward C, 2016. The Regeneration of Shoreditch. [Online]
Ransom Note.
Available at: http://www.theransomnote.com/culture/interviews/the-regeneration-of-shoreditch/
[Accessed 20 Jan 2017]

Suitcase, 2015. Where to shop in Shoreditch, London. [Online]
Suitcasemag.com
Available at: https://suitcasemag.com/travel/explore/guide-to-shoreditch-london-to-shop/
[Accessed 20 Jan 2017]

Wainwright O, 2016. Are Shoreditch skyscrapers a London tower too far, even for Boris Johnson? [Online]
The Guardian
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2016/apr/13/london-bishopsgate-goodsyard-shoreditch-planning-application-boris-johnson
[Accessed 20 Jan 2017]

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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