A majority of planners and designers fantasize and dream of making the world a better place, many of us, myself included. Use this as the reason why we do what we do, with money and sometimes fame being an afterthought. Albeit a very welcome one. But how can we achieve making spaces better in the modern day?
Once you walk into the world of Urban Design, Architecture and planning, you walk into an annoying world of constantly looking at things that you would improve on. You immediately begin seeing all the ways you can make the space and environment a much better healthier place. That’s the effect during everyday life in the city, but what about a blank slate? A canvas of brown field sites that are begging to be completely overhauled and redone is every designers dream and nightmare, you have all the freedom in the world to do what you want with a completely devastated site, but at the same time it’s the limitations that usually spark imagination and innovation. And how exactly can you change the perception of an existing site? How do we change years of fire and smoke from gigantic silos into the ideal little space of thriving environments of tiny businesses and dog walkers. But also retaining heritage and identity. It’s one extreme to another, but this is usually the challenges that urban regeneration face.
Let’s have a look at the North East of England and investigate two case studies that are relevant to this, with Middlesbrough’s post-industrial makeover Middlehaven and the less dramatic regeneration in South Shields.
When talking about the issues and potential of having a blank slate to play with that’s riddled with history, Middlehaven is probably the poster child for this. Once an industrial powerhouse, then a post-industrial wasteland and now being set up as the post-modern initiative to put Middlesbrough on the map. But with such strong heritage, how is this achieved?
Once lead by ‘celebrity architect’ Will Alsop, who came up with the initial grand master plan of Middlehaven which has been associated with the project since, which depicts what looks like a bright Utopian future of Middlesbrough. With 500 Million pounds being dangled in front of the project. Just for the project to consistently be hit by financial difficulties which caused Will Alsop and his team to drop out of the project, and the initial plan was never fully implemented, with only CIAC (community in a cube), seemingly being the only building to represent that initial vision. It has since continued, carrying on what seems to be a watered-down version of Will Alsop’s vision, the project is very much unfinished to this day.
However, what this master plan proposed and to some extent what has been implemented, is one of the most radical post-industrial makeovers you’ll ever see. Once a derelict wasteland of broken dreams now stands a place that just screams potential for a grand plan, something quite like what Will Alsop once proposed. What they have done is implemented an enormous college, not only bringing a new student ecosystem to the place but was also the first post-modern statement on the site, with the building very much being something that the place has never seen before. Off the back of that, a huge digital sector following the same principle was implemented and a pattern of huge buildings with weird shapes and bright colors emerged. Creating a new image for the town, one that would also spread into the center, seemingly putting heritage on the back burner for post-modern developments.
Though a completely radical transformation, the project is successful in changing the perception of what was a derelict area and has generated excitement for the future of the project, even to the extent of getting Middlesbrough named as one of Europe’s top 10 small ‘cities’ by the Financial Times in 2018. Although it’s at the sacrifice of identity with the designs implemented, it seems to have won people over by making such a list, as appose to the worst place to live in the UK which the town won back in 2009.
On a bigger scale South Shields set out a broad scheme to connect the whole of South Shields while at the same time developing modern buildings and infrastructures to strengthen the ecosystem of the town. John Sparkes, head of regeneration of the project said this became very important when it came to the councils attention that with every £100 that residents of South Shields spent, only £3.70 was actually spent in South Shields, barely enough for a pint by the riverside never mind an economy.
Where the South Shields project differs from the Middlehaven project is that it seems to meet the vision about halfway, whereas Middlehaven is a dramatic overhaul to bring a post industrial area to the modern age with the post modern aesthetic to go with it. South Shields takes a bit more subtle approach to Urban Regeneration with sprinkles of modern buildings with more of an emphasis on the Eco system around the buildings. The council put extra importance on the existing identity and therefore looked to connect and renovate the existing assets instead of a complete overhaul of the place.
The question begs though what are the results and how should we approach our regeneration projects? With complete flashy overhauls like Middlehaven? Or more subtle regeneration that focuses on the existing?
Well the results that were discussed around Middlesbrough is a town rejuvenated, once the worst town in the UK now is seen as one to watch, reeking of potential and promise for a bright future. Meanwhile for South Shields, it’s seen as much success but without as much noise around it, the town feels more connected, the architecture looks more defined and the economy has took a boost as a result.
Annoyingly there is no real right answer to how to take on Urban Regeneration projects, context will always matter in Urban Design. The reality is, Middlesbrough definitely needed the overhaul and didn’t have enough to just sustain, so the town is seeing the rewards of a bold idea. Whereas South Shields maybe didn’t, it just needed the more delicate touch to see results. So the take away is, don’t be afraid to be bold or delicate, keep the mind set simple. Build what needs to be built.
 ChronicleLive (2014) Latest images show how a £100m plan will transform South Shields. [Online] Available at: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/latest-images-show-how-100m-7408036 Accessed on: 24/12/2019
 Evening Gazette (2018) Remember life ‘Over the Border’? These fascinating photos will remind you. [Online] Available at: https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/remember-life-over-border-fascinating-15272632 Accessed on: 23/12/2019
 Evening Gazette (2019) The highs and lows of Middlehaven’s regeneration – did the ‘dream-maker’ succeed? [Online] Available at: https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/highs-lows-middlehavens-regeneration-dream-16251398 Accessed on: 23/12/2019
 Evening Gazette (2018) Middlesbrough named as one of Europe’s top 10 small ‘cities’ by the Financial Times. [Online] Available at: https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/middlesbrough-named-one-europes-top-14285548 Accessed on: 23/12/2019
 Harrison, J. (2019) Making South Shields ‘a place people want to visit’ again is the focus of new project. Available at: https://www.shieldsgazette.com/news/politics/council/making-south-shields-place-people-want-visit-again-focus-new-project-91714 Accessed on: 24/12/2019
 South Tynside Council (2019) South Shields regeneration [Online] Available at: https://www.southtyneside.gov.uk/article/36058/South-Shields-regeneration Accessed on: 24/12/2019
 Vernau, K (2018) Is urban regeneration worth the effort? [Online] Available at:https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/planning-construction-news/urban-regeneration/43468/ Accessed on: 28/12/2019