As metropolises the world over adapt to global and local changes, certain sections of the city get left behind. Neglect, deprivation and urban blight all too often results.
However, creative efforts are increasingly underway to rejuvenate, rather than tear down, seemingly defunct urban structures and neighbourhoods. Our pick of the world best regeneration projects showcases diverse approaches to bring the city back to life.
King’s Cross, London, UK
The areas around inner-city train stations are notorious for being transient spaces ripe for petty crime and urban blight. London’s Kings Cross, a former industrial and logistical centre of the 19th century that went into decline towards the end of the 20th century, epitomised this unsavoury reputation, remaining a deprived and dangerous zone for decades.
In the late 1990s, plans to locate the Paris to London high-speed rail terminus at the adjoining St Pancras station, gave extra urgency to regeneration efforts.
However, challenges were legion, including London’s famously protected skyline corridors which restricted building height and density, resistance from local community and severe environmental degradation and ground soil pollution.
The private sector-led regeneration effort required buy-in from local government and community stakeholders from the get-go. After extensive discussions, a masterplan was approved in 2006, to create a truly walkable urban complex that capitalised on the rail links to Europe and the rest of the UK, as well as the bus and underground network to every corner of London.
The proposal included 50 new buildings, 20 new streets, 10 new major public buildings and the restoration of 20 historic structures. Around 2,000 units of housing was to be included into the mixed-income neighbourhood. The development was to become London’s new tech and creative district, with plans to attract global companies to move to the new address.
The regeneration of King’s Cross remains one of the most successful transit-oriented developments to date. Today, the area is virtually unrecognisable from the grim and grimy dead zone of the past, with stylish public plazas, grand fountains, tree-lined streets and characteristic London-style brick facades everywhere, the backdrop to hip restaurants and cafes, artsy cinemas and galleries as well as well-rounded public housing. Important anchor tenants – such as Google, Facebook, Universal Music and the prestigious arts university, Central St Martin’s - bring culture and economic opportunities to what is now a vibrant corner of a major world metropolis.
Cheonggyecheon, South Korea
It’s hard to imagine removing a busy downtown highway and replacing it with nearly 6km of beautiful riverside public space, but that’s exactly what happened with the Cheonggyecheon project in Seoul.
The bold plan was conceived in 2002, placing the emphasis on public transport and walkability over vehicular traffic. The result was the complete dismantling of the elevated highway, rehabilitation of the polluted river underneath, rebuilding of the aging sewage infrastructure, preservation of historical assets, and the creation of approximately 15,000 acres of riverside public spaces that are well-connected to public transportation.
Opened to the public in 2005, Cheonggyecheon has become a trendy hangout area for locals and tourists alike. Despite being just off Sejongro, one of the busiest boulevards in the city, the peaceful atmosphere is largely due to much of it being 4.6 metres below street level. There are also small waterfalls and nearly two dozen overhead bridges, alongside other attractions such as parks, art galleries and outdoor events.
Considered one of the most successful urban regeneration projects in the world, the surrounding area has enjoyed economic rejuvenation as Cheonggyecheon has transformed into an icon of Seoul.
Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, Washington D. C.
Just like in London, the urban township along the Anascotia river in Washington D.C. suffered greatly in the transition to a post-industrial economy. By the 1980s, it was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in America as a result of the decimation of its manufacturing industries.
In 1998, a 30-year Master Plan, dubbed the Anascotia Waterfront Initiative (AWI) was introduced. By focusing on ensuring that historic residents of the district became the prime beneficiaries of renewal efforts, a more sustainable regeneration was achieved.
AWI’s flagship project, the Capitol Riverfront, started in earnest when the US Navy moved in. This led to several other major institutions following suit, bringing in thousands of jobs that spurred the riverfront business district. One of the most impactful moves was a major baseball team - the Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos – which brought with it a new stadium.
However, the heart of the AWI is its housing initiative. Through a painstaking process of community engagement, dilapidated housing blocks were reconstructed, and land was extensively redeveloped to provide housing for existing residents as well as accommodating new residents into a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-income neighbourhood.
Perhaps most famously, the project gave birth to great public spaces. A network of comfortable pedestrian and cycling linkages were created from DC’s famous Mall to the Riverfront. This new streetscape complemented the distinctive grids of DC and also create views of the Capitol from the rejuvenated neighbourhood. US$100 million was also spent on approximately 10 acres of new parks, which have become firm favourites among locals and visitors.
Kali Cho-de, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Not all neighbourhood regeneration projects require an expensive top-down approach from state institutions. Sometimes, all it takes is ingenuity and community organisation, such as with the award-winning transformation of the urban village of Kali Cho-de, Yogyakarta.
The informal settlement, inhabited by the lowest income groups of the city, was located in a severely polluted area, used as a waste dumping site. However, plans to demolish the township became the urgent impetus needed for community leaders to come up with a bold, self-made alternative.
Two local figures – architect and religious leader, Yousef Mangunwijaya and local chief, Willi Prasetya - proposed a piecemeal process of “upgrading” to be done by the community themselves, that was achieved by harnessing the power of traditional consultation. The two leaders marshalled the community to construct a community centre as well as retention walls that support the erection of A-frame housing units. Villagers were persuaded to rebuild their individual shacks into these formal A-frame houses. The house design has since won international accolades as a model of low-impact architecture.
A community-owned cooperative was also set up to provide basic services and manage the regeneration. Residents pay Rs50 per day (RM3) to access services from the cooperative. Financing for the upgrading was initially borne by the architect and his friends, but major funds were later sourced from two national newspapers that have championed the project, showcasing a truly grassroots collaboration of civic responsibility and community know-how.
In 1992, this inspiring self-organised regeneration project was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, an accolade shared with icons, such as the Petronas Towers.
Thumbnail: By stari4ek - originally posted to Flickr as fest2-01, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4005363
By stari4ek - originally posted to Flickr as fest2-01, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4005363