Most of the principles – design for people, conserve cultural heritage, “vitalize” public spaces, etc. – are pretty general and will not be news to anyone who has been following smart growth ideas for the last decade or so. But of course a lot of government officials and developers don’t fall into that category, and I hope they may find this a mind-opening read. The report itself is readable and attractive; the numerous case studies from China and around the world, including several that are not on the most seen list, are particularly welcome.
The forum was short but more than usually interesting for events of its kind, as there was a good mix of experienced developers and forward-thinking city planners. There was a particularly good (in my opinion) discussion on whether existing codes inhibit good regeneration projects and what should be done about them.
To me the most notable thing about the report is that urban regeneration as a practice is steadily gaining notice and diversifying from the simple slum clearance role it has traditionally played in China. It’s not surprising that ULI has chosen to champion regeneration, as it’s a stronghold of international firms that are not competing for large-scale new “neighborhoods” being built wholesale at the urban fringes. But there is more than that going on – the number of good urban regeneration projects in all of China used to be countable on one hand, but now there is a dizzying range, and large cities have multiple examples of different types. I see a complementary market evolution going on, in which customer preferences (for rough-hewn workshop space and twee little tea rooms, for example) are changing just as fast as the industry is.
The next step is to provide more specifics at the project level, and more financing and policy support at the macro level. I’d like to see this get built into the “new-style urbanization” planning which is going on nationally and in cities, and I believe this is happening.