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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Art for Social Spaces > Themes > Regeneration


This section invites you to interrogate the notion of ‘urban regeneration’. What does it mean? What are its historical roots? What discourses does it key into?
Urban decay – urban renewal
Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs ASS00222 Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs

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urban a. of, living or situated in, a city or town [f. L urbanus, urbs urbis city]

regenerate v. 2. generate again, bring into renewed existence; form afresh [f. L re(generare) generate]

The phrase - ‘urban regeneration’ - may have its roots in Latin but it is reiterated with resounding familiarity within contemporary political discourse. The phrase embodies various assumptions - it gives primacy to the perpetuation and development of urban, as opposed to rural, lifestyles and it presupposes that cities are in a state of de-generation.

The following passage is taken from a booklet entitled Urban Regeneration, published in 1995 by the Central Office of Information:
In recent decades, many urban areas of Britain have experienced considerable difficulties. Leading to economic decline and social problems. The weakening or disappearance of traditional industries, the relocation of employers to greenfiled sites, high unemployment, crime and vandalism, poor housing and low incomes have all taken their toll on what were once some of the most prosperous and thriving parts of the country. Often it is the inner city areas which suffer from the worst problems…
The booklet outlines various measures taken by successive governments to tackle urban decline and decay. It describes a range of recent programmes such as the creation of Urban Development Corporations in the 1980s and the establishment of the Single Regeneration Budget in 1993. Several major projects have involved the creation of cultural and artistic centres such as the refurbishment of the Albert Dock in Liverpool.

Intervention by central and/or local government has fluctuated and has been underpinned by different political ideologies. In The Crisis of the Inner City, published in1979, Martin Loney argued that government thinking on the stemming of inner city decline had evolved gradually over the previous decades – from a narrow focus on cushioning the worst effects of an inevitable decline - to a more vigorous pro-active approach encouraging industry to return and re-invest in inner cities.

Programmes of urban re-development have been ongoing since the Second World War. In some cases, road-building and slum clearance have been determining factors in urban growth or renewal. Of course, urban centres sustained serious bomb-damage during the war and reconstruction offered opportunities to re-design city centres. Architects and planners wrote of fostering an urban renaissance. Ralph Tubbs proposed plans to ‘replace the old chaos’ of war-damaged cities. He warned that ‘re-destruction’ may have to precede ‘re-construction’ and used the examples of Rome and Venice as ‘a model expression of the free spirit’.
Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs ASS00225 Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs

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Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs ASS00226 Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs

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Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs ASS00227 Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs

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Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs ASS00228 Living in Cities- Ralph Tubbs

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Coventry sustained extensive bomb damage during the war. Famously, the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, consecrated in 1962, provided a number of commissions for contemporary artists. The view of the main entrance shows a glimpse of the ruins of the old building.
‘Culture-led regeneration’

What does the idea of ‘culture-led regeneration’ imply? What values are inherent in the phrase?

The linking of public art/cultural projects with social welfare and the renewal of communities in the early postwar years will be explored further in case studies. In more recent decades, a stronger emphasis has been placed on the direct connection between public art and economic regeneration. Since the 1980s, a number of local authorities have adopted some form of ‘percent for art’ scheme, whereby all new buildings incorporate a quota of artwork. Major new public artworks have attracted visitors and have become part of the tourist and heritage industry. Has public art become a form of cultural tourism?
For Mach, making a public art work is 'not just a physical thing, it’s a convoluted, socio-political process.'

Regeneration through art really works, but we will need to look at it in 20 years time to judge it" says Peter Jenkinson. "The true regeneration is the regeneration of local people’s hearts and minds.
David Mach, artist, and Peter Jenkinson, Director of New Art Gallery, Walsall, quoted in Making Places – Working with Art in the Public Realm, Public Arts, Wakefield, 2001, p. 37.
These comments are taken from David Briers’ essay ‘Shared Terrain? Urban Regeneration’ in a booklet entitled Making Places – Working with Art in the Public Realm, produced by Public Arts. Drawing on a one-day seminar organised around the question of culture’s role in helping to deliver economic development and community renewal, Briers addresses the issue of ‘culture-led regeneration’ through focusing on three cultural projects : New Art Gallery, Walsall, the Baltic Contemporary Centre and the Wakefield Waterfront development.

The issues and factors affecting the success or failure of ‘culture-led’ projects and their impact on local economies are complex. Inevitably, the outcome is varied. Some of the ‘keys’ to success are cited as : the existence of appropriate physical opportunities, an existing track record (eg. in Gateshead’s case, 15 years of public art projects culminating in Gormley’s Angel of the North), regional and national funding agendas, timing and luck.

Gormley’s Angel of the North has been feted as a great popular success and has been widely adopted as a symbol of regrowth for the region. In ‘The Media Success of Gormley’s Angel of the North’, Paul Usherwood recounts the ‘triumphalist’ story as one in which,
Gormley’s sculpture is presented as a symbol of Gateshead’s determination to transform itself from the ‘dingy dormitory’ (as J.B. Priestley once described the town) into the cosmopolitan centre of civilization which, supposedly, it is fast becoming today.
P. Usherwood, ‘The Media Success of Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North’ in Visual Culture in Britain, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2001, p. 37.
In examining various accounts of the Angel’s ‘success’, he finds them all lacking and turns to the world of commercial culture and the world of ‘branding devices’ to explain the phenomenon. Its majestic setting in the landscape is bypassed, its integration with ‘place’ and locality are underplayed and we are invited to consider sculpture as ‘sign’ – its appearance in the BBC advertisement underlining the Angel,
as merely a screen event in the Baudrillard sense, one of those images that flow across a television screen daily.
Usherwood, ibid., p. 42.

Questions for discussion

What role, if any, does public art have in economic development?

What arguments are put forward about the relationship between public art and urban regeneration?

Can you find specific examples of projects?


Urban Regeneration, Aspects of Britain, HMSO, 1995

B. Goodchild, Housing and the Urban Environment, Blackwell, Oxford/London, 1997

Mel Gooding, Public: Art : Space, A Decade of Public Art, Merrell Holberton Publishers, Public Art Commissions Agency, London,1998

Malcolm Miles, Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures

A. Ravetz, Remaking Cities, Croom Helm, London 1980

Making Places – Working with Art in the Public Realm, Public Arts, Wakefield, 2001

Paul Usherwood, ‘The Media Success of Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North’, Visual Culture in Britain, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2001, pp. 35 – 45.

The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association’s series of published surveys of public sculpture in Britain. Books on Merseyside, Birmingham, Leicestershire and North East published by Liverpool University Press – other titles to follow.

Public Monuments and Sculpture Association online database of images and information on public sculpture

Sheffield Hallam online Public Art Research database


This section has raised some questions about the concept of ‘urban regeneration’ and the way it is linked with culture and public art. You should now move on to the Language theme.