The 10 commandments of urban regeneration


Anyone in the business of urban regeneration needs guidance and support.

  • How do you know you’re doing the right thing?
  • Is this going to work?
  • What is really going on here?

Director of Welsh creative regeneration agency Urban Foundry, Ben Reynolds, has some cool words of advice that they are applicable anywhere in the world – his 10 commandments of regeneration.

Delivered at a 4TheRegion conference about regeneration and the future of the city region held in Swansea, UK, the list is quite clearly the product of plenty of hands-on experience.

So with his permission, here they are, transcribed more or less accurately.

Commandment 1: Know thyself

The foundations must be there for any project so you need to understand your own strengths and weaknesses. For your own sake, be clear exactly where you are going and why you are going there.

What are your strongest assets? Back those. What are your weaker areas? Work hard to improve them, and have a plan to keep the blessed of our change affects you – for good or bad – as you work.

Commandment 2: Get others to know thyself

If you are marketing any product you need to tell the rest of the world why you and it are so good. The same thing is true of your brand. And it is true of cities and the sense of place that you are trying to generate.

What’s special about it? What is it like to be there, to live there? Create a sense of cohesion and understanding. What makes it unique and different from any other place? What are your shared goals?

It’s all very well to have ideas of your own but they need to be shared by the community. It needs to be shared plans that you are creating with buy-in from everybody – everyone should “get it”.

And you need to tell and share this story regularly in different media to different audiences.

Commandment 3: Thou shalt communicate better amongst yourselves

Talk to one another about how you are actually going to make this work. Talk among your staff and the community. Get them engaged.

This is expensive and time-consuming. Don’t just talk to those who want to talk to you, but think about how you reach the harder to reach people. Create and sustain networks, because this is how change really happens.

Commandment 4: Thou shalt collaborate more

So it’s all very well engaging people, but then you have to work with them. That’s often not easy because they have their own agendas and their own day jobs and this also takes time and effort.

So a really important part of this is to listen, and think about how you make change happen.

Then enable people and build social capital by creating more supportive infrastructure. Get people to support each other so that you are not doing all the work; this is the meaning of enablement.

Commandment 5: Thou shalt get over thyself

One of the reasons that change does not happen is because we can’t get over ourselves. We need to take a good hard look, find a stupid rule that we have and then break it and come up with a better one.

This is called having “can do” attitude. One of the reasons why things don’t happen is because people come up with arbitrary reasons for them not to. Some reasons are good, but others need to be questioned. So you need to become more responsive, kind and confident. How do we do this?

Commandment 6: Thou shalt create a nicer and healthier place for thou to live, work, play and learn in

Design cities around people. Make people places, because people make places. A huge amount of effort has been spent in the last 50 or 60 years trying to correct the mistakes of post-war reconstruction. The units that our cities are designed around our metal boxes on wheels.

But actual human beings were designed to walk around at 3 miles an hour, which is roughly the speed at which our senses are attuned to take in information from our environment.

So we need to design cities around pedestrians and places where people can congregate, where people can have conversations and where businesses are close. We made the problems so we can fix them – but remember that human beings are not always rational.

Commandments 7: Thou shalt not leave anyone behind

This may be the trickiest one. Regeneration should not happen from the top-down. We need to work with grass-roots organisations and tackle inequality, issues like poverty and homelessness.

We need to empower everyone. If we aren’t addressing these social problems then ultimately what are we doing – storing up more problems for the future. As we are among the richest nations in the world this should not be difficult. Everyone needs to feel included in regeneration projects.

Commandment 8: Thou shalt remember that there are others than thyself

One of the main things about our cities is that they contain diverse cultures, people from all sorts of backgrounds. Successful communities are more tolerant. They are inclusive, where members of ethnic communities do not feel less represented. And this makes them more creative.

Embrace diversity, seek out all the many cultures in the community. Culture is a way of life. So it is important to design the regeneration program in a way that embraces all of them. It is important to allow them to celebrate their cultures. Then you will create a sum greater than all of its individual parts.

Commandment 9: Thou shalt stop screwing it all up for thyself and the next lot of thyselves

We need to make spaces for nature, to grow food for ourselves, reducing waste, making sure our economy is circular – which is about more than just reducing waste but finding a use for everything. Create biophilic cities, which are healthier places for everyone to live.

Commandment 10: Remember thyself is not infallible

Learning how to fail is just as important as learning how to succeed. When Thomas Edison was inventing the lightbulb he didn’t get it right 99 times, but he kept trying and what we remember is the one time he got it right.

But he needed to fail all those other times and learn from those mistakes. There are few cut and paste solutions – every community is different. It’s about watching, listening, learning, choosing, tweaking, developing.

This is how to learn and improve as you go. And while we are negotiating all the rules and regulations and deals we need to be kind to ourselves and remember to have fun while we’re doing it.