Redelineating urban roles

The bureaucracies that run cities have two core tasks which require completely different outlooks, attitudes and skill sets. Yet often they are done by the same organization with attendant stresses. The first task is the routine delivery of services, which are largely repetitive, such as street cleaning, road maintenance, and the management of schools and transport systems. This is essentially rule-driven and mechanical. The second task is managing urban change, which is developmental. This focuses on identifying future needs, such as the soft and hard infrastructure requirements for 50 years hence. This might be as bold as shifting the city centre, as Taipei has done by building Taipei 101, the Taipei financial centre in the new Xinyi District. At the time of writing, this

508m skyscraper is the world's tallest building. Around it now cluster department stores and Eslite, one of the world's largest bookstores, selling 3000 different magazines and newspapers. Promoted as 'a cultural arena for the people of Taiwan', Eslite's eight storeys include a children's discovery museum, seminar rooms, and a design and living floor. Managing urban change might involve investing in new education, shifting the industrial base to services, getting into a new economic sector, recabling a city or opening out new housing zones.

Vehicles to push the urban change agenda forward need a value base to guide thinking and decision-making; they need to be set up democratically while being able to act entrepreneurially within accountability principles. This means giving leeway to act with the requisite public monitoring. Rotterdam Development Corporation is one model of an arm's-length local authority entity with the leeway to act entrepreneurially and to partner with the private sector. Importantly, it has an income stream from a large number of ground rents in the city. Thus it can put resources into the pot when enticing the private sector to get involved but can also reduce risk, so encouraging innovation or more expansive or interesting follow-through. Another model is Bilbao's Metropoli-30 (described in Chapter 7). It was set up as a driving mechanism and vision holder. It does not confuse vision-making with implementing. Its road map has led from a focus on civic infrastructure to a change in cultural values in the region. It has said to itself, 'You only have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the civic infrastructure, and at a minimum it should be international class, at a maximum world class.'

Metropoli-30 was particularly effective in the early years of Bilbao's regeneration, when it helped launch the city on to the global stage. However, it is now struggling somewhat to maintain its position and, while its current theme of 'changing the cultural values' of the city to be more open and tolerant is immensely important, it does not have the same urgent ring as building a new physical infrastructure. Again the invisible infrastructure never seems as exciting as the visible.

In parallel, the company Bilbao Ria 2000 plays a significant role within the city itself and has grown in importance. Created in 1993, it is a joint stock company with public capital - a status chosen to give its organizational ethos flexibility. At the beginning it had few financial resources and had to face the overcautiousness of private investors. It received land - a crucial point - from the port and the railway company at a nominal cost in return for developing new infrastructures. This enabled it to resell parts for housing units. These first receipts were reinvested in high quality public realm works in the Abandoibarra area near the Guggenheim. As the real estate market took off after the Guggenheim effect, and while other resources were leveraged from the EU and public institutions, the initial caution of the private sector stopped and the market dynamic gained full flow. The danger now, however, is that it excludes the less wealthy.

In surveying regeneration economics the following conclusions can be drawn. Public and private relations need to be in balance so mutual benefit is clear and not dominated by one party. It is naive to think complicated developments involving public-good values and goals can be achieved by a few enlightened developers working on their own. However enlightened they are, their economics do not stack up in truly blighted areas. The private realm is more often than not interested in the shorter term and in minimizing risk. The public sector needs to help reduce that risk, but also needs the tools to do so. An income stream to help the private sector is required. The ownership of and ability to trade in land is the key lever as it enables borrowing against increased land values. But bear in mind that the window of opportunity within regeneration to capture land value is short.

An income stream enables local, publicly accountable bodies to take a lead and not just be passive implementers of what a national government imposes or be completely driven by private market interests. Cities in continental Europe have a better understanding of the need to plan for their financial future and it allows them to develop more imaginative strategies than those in, say, North America, Australasia or Britain.

Some of the value-added created through good public strategy should go back to the public purse. This revenue can help finance public realm initiatives. A completely private sector approach tends to privatize public space, so you to tend to end up with mall-like developments and lose the street in the process. The difference in feeling between private public space and public public space is subtle but significant. However well done, the former has a commercial edge as it is geared to consuming, which allows for some excitement but is essentially barren. The latter done well, as in Abandoibarra, can exude public values like conviviality, the ability to hang around or the ability to reflect. When done badly, however, it also has an emptiness.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment