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Urban regeneration is a key aspect of urban design and is often used to refer to regeneration projects in cities or other large settlements and urban areas. One aspect that is sometimes overlooked is the regeneration of smaller towns which can be seen to differ from urban regeneration in cities in a number of ways.

Decline in Towns

In the UK, post-industrial decline following the second world war is often cited as a reason for decline in the economy and population of many towns and cities, particularly in the more industrialised North of the country. What makes small towns particularly vulnerable to decline is often their reliance on a single key industry to their local economy, such as in the mining towns of the North East and Yorkshire or the mill towns of Lancashire. Even towns which didn’t rely on heavy industry faced decline for other reasons, such as seaside resorts like Blackpool which began to suffer due to the decline of industry in surrounding towns but also due to the increasing number of cheaper flights and holidays to international destinations in the second half of the twentieth century. The key difference with small towns specifically is the lack of versatility in the economy, with some settlements owing their entire existence almost to a specific industry, making it economically unsustainable when that industry began to decline.

Urban Regeneration in Towns

City regeneration has received much more attention that town regeneration. Cities are larger, have a greater population and resultingly, a larger pool of investment. Small towns are often reliant on public funding to initiate urban regeneration, often because small towns which have faced decline often suffer from an image problem which discourages private investment. Many of the following findings into what helps urban regeneration are taken from research in the town planning review by Powe, N., Pringle, R. and Hart, T.

Regeneration in small towns is more successful where there is locally led, long-term regeneration with a series of sustained “small wins” rather than “big fix” solutions. This requires a need to be more realistic about what can be achieved in regeneration of small towns. Too much of a directive role by external agencies (such as government) can result in quicker but less effective results with local authority and community led projects producing more appropriate developments with greater benefits to the place but often slowly with frustrating progress at times.

With local authorities stretched thin in terms of the funding they can provide, it is important that any investment in small town regeneration is put to good use. With funding often limited an the process to attract it often based on competition, it is often the case that collaboration rather than competition between smaller towns in a particular area can be used to strengthen the local economy and access more funding, but can also be difficult to achieve and get local communities onboard with.

To this end, a key aspect of small town regeneration are community schemes, with a focus on what makes a town unique. This is vital to making towns competitive in an increasingly globalised world. One good example of this can be found in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, a former industrial mill town which has received press attention for its “incredible edible” scheme, with vegetable planters around the town in public places. Run by volunteers in conjunction with locals and visitors alike, the scheme gives people the opportunity to grow their own vegetables whilst also making the town greener. The scheme has also helped to local economy by giving the town a unique attraction for tourists as well as interested urban designers.

All photos from the Incredible Edible Todmorden website (

References and Further Reading

Powe, N., Pringle, R., Hart, T. – Matching the process to the challenge within small town regeneration (2015) Town Planning Review, 86 (2), pp. 177-202

Berry, J.N., Deddis, W.G., McGreal, W.S. – Town regeneration schemes: An evaluation of project initiatives (1992) Journal of Property Research, 9 (2), pp. 161-171

Incredible Edible Todmorden –

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509


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