SURF Response to Groundhog Day? Explaining 50 years of failed renewal
SURF, by Andy Milne
As Scotland’s Regeneration Forum, SURF has benefited from interactive discussion with Douglas Robertson and with other engaged academics as part of our collaborative cross sector efforts to improve regeneration policy and practice. As a long time community regeneration practitioner, and based on what I have learnt in my time with SURF, I think Douglas’s analysis is largely accurate. My two main caveats are:
1) What Douglas rightly refers to as small scale, localised project investments and activities, can and do make positive and significant differences to the lives and opportunities of poorer people and communities. They often do so in a way that is financially efficient, both in cost of delivery and in more widely beneficial preventative spend. However, such investments and experiences are rarely sustained or effectively built upon.
2) The task of authentic regeneration, which Douglas correctly characterises as one of tackling the root causes of poverty and inequality, has never taken place against a stable economic, demographic, cultural or technological backdrop; and perhaps never more unstable than now. Those massively influential factors can and do shift in ways which drive, and sometimes rapidly accelerate degeneration in the essential connectivity of people, places, work and social culture.
So, while Douglas makes the case that ‘regeneration’ has failed over the last half century in Scotland, I would argue that its more accurate to say that the relatively modest investments that have been made, have struggled to make substantial or lasting impact in the face of a less obvious but massively more powerful national and international shift in economic and social policy.
It is the quality of shared leadership and the relationship between individuals, democratic systems, and the public and private sectors that will determine longer term outcomes – not place based regeneration investment and activity in isolation, locally valuable though it certainly is.