The Central Saint Martins Campus (© Voist Ltd)
The Central Saint Martins Campus

How do you ensure regeneration and gentrification is beneficial to all involved? There must be more meaningful collaboration. This was my overriding thought following last Saturday’s round table discussion on regeneration and gentrification. It was held at the Central Saint Martins campus in Kings Cross which sits at the heart of one of London’s biggest urban regeneration areas. Where a well-to-do art college meets an area of high deprivation, it was the perfect venue to host a round table talk on the subject.

As part of the college’s Restless Futures events and tying neatly into both the MA Architecture degree show and the London Festival of Architecture, the discussion aimed to bring together as many interested parties surrounding redevelopment with a focus on the Kings Cross area.

Led by Head of school at Central Saint Martins Jeremy Till, the debate was a lively discussion surrounding the process of regeneration, and of course the process of gentrification. A tough, meaty topic to try and get your teeth into on a sultry Saturday evening. There is always tensions surrounding regeneration. How do you attract new property owners and businesses to an area, yet maintain an already existing community?
As panelist Teddy Cruz stated, regeneration erases the top layer of an area’s story and history. The community that once was, is moved on – their stories forgotten, never documented.

Dr Rebecca Ross’ project Wiki Kings Cross aimed to allow locals to add their stories, facts and knowledge about Kings Cross to a giant paper version of the area’s Wikipedia page. A truly collaborative account of the locale. These stories do exists, either spoken or written on forums and blogs, such as Daniel Zylbersztajn poem Mapping Us. They offer a first hand, truly personal and local insight into an area. But do the developers and local councils see or even know of them. There needs to be a crowdsourcing of voices of the people that live and use spaces before and during redevelopment to gain an understanding of an area and how it currently operates.

constructionArgent, the developers in charge of the Kings Cross renewal did carry out extensive community engagement. As Roger Madelin told us, he attended countless meetings and sessions with a whole manner of groups, individuals and organisations before the plans were even drawn up. The developers need to make the project a success, after all, it is a very rare opportunity to be able to regenerate 67 acres of prime Zone 1 land in Central London.

Dr Ross exclaimed at the often seen tokenism consultation that regularly happen in the world of redevelopment. Consulting on what typefaces to use for hoardings is not the type of meaningful question that needs to be asked. We almost need to be more frank and open with our plans for the future of areas and be willing to listen to boths groups who already live in an area and those charged with improving the socio-economic figures of an area. This consultation must be a constant flow running from the initial planning stages right up to the public realm installations.

But the trouble is, how do you ensure quality consultation is truly collaborative? Links need to be established and strengthened and there needs to be an open, two way dialogue so as to get results and plans fit for communities today and in the future. Of course the danger is once you have a more meaningful consultation process you have to ensure for a healthy turnout from all areas of a community.

There is as of yet no magic formula. Developers and councils will continue to regenerate areas, those locales will inevitable become gentrified and the existing communities (those that are priced out and those that remain) will be hesitant and opposed to change. But it is clear that meaningful collaboration and consultation must be placed consciously at the heart of any regeneration programme.