What is urban regeneration?

Planning in a sustainable way the redevelopment of degraded or semi-abandoned urban areas

Photo of author

By Alex

Lately there is a lot of talk about urban regeneration, but are you sure you know what it is? This concept encompasses all actions focused on the redevelopment of a space, often disused or very degraded, not necessarily only in a physical sense, but also on a social and environmental level, within the city. Redevelopment also pays special attention to sustainability and sustainable building. Let’s take a closer look at what it is and some concrete examples where it has been successfully applied.


What does urban regeneration mean?

It is a process of redevelopment of already built-up, degraded or semi-abandoned urban areas characterized by low property values. In English it is also known as urban renewal and its goal is to create an area with new infrastructure and quality buildings to make it more habitable and pleasant, provide low-cost housing to a low-income segment of the population, and promote social cohesion and neighborhood safety.

It is being carried forward with various actions, from urban planning policies directed to the rehabilitation and redevelopment of these city spaces, to project financing, to its construction. And it is seen in various land redevelopment programs as an excellent remedy to the urban and social decay of certain urban areas.

Typically, urban renewal operations take place in places that urban planners and local governments consider ‘slums’ or with low quality infrastructure or without, and that are experiencing urban decay. Development can take the form of new businesses, residences or services.

Negative aspects of urban redevelopment

The renewal of blighted areas in cities with high population density often turns into a speculative strategy to make areas with low property values more profitable and increase tax revenues.

These renewal programs are highly controversial because they often result in displacing low-income and minority residents in areas targeted for redevelopment. New developments that were supposed to provide affordable housing have instead been upscale commercial buildings and parks, accessible by a new network of public transportation. In addition, there is a sense that some areas with high potential, but degraded for years, have been zoned over the years to prevent investment.

What is the meaning of urban regeneration?

These interventions include activities to reclaim infrastructure and services, enhance situations where there is a limitation to land use, and give greater protection to environmental sustainability.

Regenerating a neighborhood or city area allows the community to reappropriate and renew spaces, with obvious improvements in quality of life and in the social, economic, and environmental spheres.

The goal is to help make cities more sustainable and more people-friendly, counteracting the frenzied and indiscriminate use of buildable land consumption, an increasingly strong trend that has heavy repercussions on the geo-morphological balance and makes areas more vulnerable in front of hydro-geological risks.

urban regeneration

What can be done with urban regeneration

Regeneration initiatives in concrete follow several lines, through specific projects and targeted, dedicated investments. They start with:

  • creating public transport nodes
  • creating new green areas and public parks
  • reclaim disused building areas
  • improve the energy efficiency of the existing building stock
  • transform run-downand obsolete neighborhoods into economically productive areas for the community
  • promote social housing and co-housing to address situations of housing distress
  • physically redevelop public and private buildingsalways taking into account the cultural heritage
    they represent
  • dedicate economic incentives to encourage entrepreneurial activities

How to do urban regeneration

This process has no universal, predefined rules and must adapt to each specific situation.

It takes place, in fact, through the creative and modern rehabilitation of built-up areas that are disused and underused,. These areas are redeveloped with respect for environmental sustainability, encouraging the use of eco-friendly materials and renewable energy resources.

The actors involved are not only experts and experienced construction workers, but all social components and associative realities. Think, for example, of cooperatives active in a local context, and voluntary groups or local associations.

This regeneration can also be a vehicle for:

  • promotion of social inclusion policies, and propeller of employment and involvement of local entrepreneurship
  • opportunity to give cities a new look, thus revitalizing their image on the ground
  • motivating cultural, economic and social revaluationwith attention to environmental aspects

When urban regeneration was born

Actually, this concept seen as modern has ancient roots. It was born in England in the Victorian age, as an attempt to solve and improve the poor living conditions in cities that had become unhealthy and unlivable due to unrestrained and unregulated industrialization, linked to an economic liberalism that was still poorly regulated.

A similar phenomenon, but born of different needs, occurred in 1853 in France, when Napoleon III hired Baron Haussmann for the aesthetic redevelopment of Paris, a process that had an enormous impact on the city’s history and appearance, as well as on its urban planning approach.

To this day, urban regeneration of city areas is a widespread technique used among developed and developing countries. It is often implemented at events of global significance that are based in these nations to breathe new life into entire neighborhoods. Just think of the Expo in Milan, Lisbon, Hannover or the Barcelona Olympic Games back in 1992.

urban regeneration
Eco-district in Hammarby, Stockholm

What is the difference between redevelopment and urban regeneration

The rehabilitation of disused or dilapidated built-up areas to give them new life can be done through building renovation, paying attention to environmental sustainability and using eco-friendly materials, with the ultimate goal of limiting land consumption.

Regeneration is a 360-degree concept that takes into account more than just redevelopment. The idea is dil give new life to communities so that they can reappropriate these regenerated spaces, achieving a better quality of life, both socially and economically.

Some examples of urban regeneration

Examples of this kind can already be found in various European cities and in some countries outside Europe, and are particularly works to establish eco-districts within large metropolitan areas.

These urban regeneration interventions can be summarized in three main elements:

  • the 15-minute city model, which involves the rethinking of mobility and urban space management according to which, all the nerve points of the city must be reachable in 15 minutes maximum
  • the concept of circular economy, because of the relevance assumed by reuse and intelligent management of waste
  • the role of positive energy districts (PEDs) in which renewable energy sources are assuming increasing importance.

All geared toward thesmart city that is, the place where digitization, intelligence and environmental sustainability must go hand in hand.

Here are some examples.

  • Confluence, Lyon. The largest post-industrial urban renewal project in Europe, in a neighborhood until 2009 mainly occupied by the Perrache market station and wasteland. The main idea of the plan was to double the size of downtown Lyon between the Rhone and Saône rivers. Covering 150 hectares, the district features impressive modern architecture and innovative redesign concepts, including luxury apartments, work spaces, and parks, all built overlooking the river. One of the buildings, La Sucrière, hosts social events and contemporary art exhibitions. A shopping center and small stores, as well as bars and bistros, are located in the area. The project is being led by a local public redevelopment company, Maison de La Confluence.
  • St. Catherine’s Market, Barcelona. This project has completely transformed Barcelona’s old nineteenth-century district market, becoming, since its inauguration in 2005, one of the most beloved places for citizens. Today, the Santa Caterina market amazes with the irregularity of the roof and the pixelated effect of the roof made with the use of colored ceramic tiles, which attracts attention because of the different colors that have been used, with the clear intent of paying homage to Gaudi.
  • Vauban, Freiburg. The Vauban eco-residential district in Freiburg, southern Germany, is one of the world’s best examples of sustainable urban living. Created in the mid-1990s through a cooperative decision-making process, it opened in 2000, becoming a model of holistic, ecological environmental planning. In fact, it developed from a squatted community that did not want to be removed. Designed around ecological transportation, considered the source of the greatest ecological impact and difficult to reduce, it limits car access and mandates only biking for residents who can park in a community lot at the edge of the neighborhood. It relies on an extensive network of public infrastructure such as bike lanes, efficient and highly connected transportation, schools, offices, and shopping centers, all within walking distance.
  • Borneo-Sporenburg, Amsterdam. A 15-minute bicycle ride from the center of Amsterdam rises a residential neighborhood in which, two large docks housing several dwellings, are connected by two bridges resembling the back of a dragon. All the dwellings are on 3 floors and overlook the canals, while all around are green spaces and small cafes in which to meet.
  • Eco-district of Hammarby, Stockholm. Here, energy production comes from a mix of renewables, mainly photovoltaics, and biogas derived from waste treatment. The average energy demand of the buildings is 72 kWh/m 2 and about 47 percent of that demand comes from household waste. The result is low energy consumption and a 65% reduction in CO 2 emissions. In addition, public transportation is super-efficient and in many cases free, a factor that discourages the use of cars by citizens.
urban regeneration
New Confluence neighborhood, Lyon

More information on green building

You might be interested in these articles on building energy management and upgrading: