Sustainable regeneration policies for inner areas: an integrated model

Regeneration can be related to sustainable development. To combine these concepts into sustainable regeneration, the starting point is considering the subtle difference between sustainability and sustainable development (Brown, Hanson, Liverman, & Merideth, 1987; Jacobs, 1991; O’Riordan, 1988). Sustainability is one of the utmost planetary concern (SDSN, 2013; United Nations, 2015) and refers to the ascent of environmental issues within the central area of policy-making, which is primarily economic. In this sense, given the limited carrying capacity of the planet, the primary aim of sustainability is having natural resources consumptions compatible with renewals, preferably by constraining economic growth (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & Behrens, 1972).

Sustainable development emphasizes the mutual need of sustainability and economic development, whose prerequisite is acknowledging environmental limitations, basic social needs, and intergenerational and intragenerational equity (Brundtland, 1987; Dresner, 2002). Rather than being an achieved state, it is a tension towards a “collective outcome” (Gray, 2010: 57) that implies a “progressive transformation of economy and society” through public policies (Dresner, 2002: 73). In fact, the idea of sustainable development is central to the EU Cohesion Policy (Begg, 2010; Faludi, 2007).

From a policy perspective, both sustainable development and regeneration aim at developing a place by intervening on social, environmental, and economic fields (Pearce, 2014; Tallon, 2010) . Also, from a measurement perspective, the profile of performance reporting in public (Ball & Bebbington, 2008; Rajala, Laihonen, & Vakkuri, 2017) and private sector organizations (Coda, 2010; Savitz & Weber, 2006) is characterized by such triple bottom line. Similarly, the performance of regeneration initiatives has been measured through indicator-based frameworks which embody social, economic, and environmental dimensions (Colantonio & Dixon, 2011; Hemphill, McGreal, & Berry, 2004; Zheng, Shen, & Wang, 2014). Hence, regeneration should not be indented as a way to trigger economic growth and mitigate the effects of such grow on social and environmental resources, but rather as a policy aimed at pursuing social, economic, and ecological goals (Mang & Reed, 2012).

The achievement of these results should be gauged through a consistent measurement system. In this perspective, the three field of sustainable regeneration are placed at the heart of the model, while the measurement perspectives scale the multidimensional nature of policy performance.

Slides Box 16.6, 1987, Sicilian vilage (souce allan_harris on flickr)

For instance, as part of a broader regeneration program for an inner area, local policy-makers may set the strategic goal of improving the positioning of the area as tourism destination in the regional and national market. To enhance the tourism potential of the destination, heritage and food have been identified as the core assets of a marketing strategy. The belief is that festival and foodie shows may exploit those resources, positively influence tourism arrivals, number of businesses, and, in turn, increase local incomes, including municipal tax revenues. Such attained economic growth may support further investments.

Up to this point, it seems an effective policy: the more attractive is the destination, the higher the increase in tourism arrivals, and the growth of businesses operations will be. Even from a politics perspective, implementing such policy may allow inner area policy-makers to gain consensus and strengthen the unity of the local community of interest.

The design of such linear policy may be affected by a short-term view and limited by a parochial perspective about values and performance. Indeed, on a longer time-horizon, besides expected positive outcomes on a specific sector, a number of side-effects may arise.

An increase in tourism presence sustains the growth of hospitality and accommodation services, which contributes at improving destination attractiveness that, in turn, feeds back on tourist arrivals. Although developing tourism potential may lead public revenues to grow (e.g., local income taxes), sooner or later it will also require increasing public services capacity and improving the quality of such deliveries (e.g., info-point, transportation, guided tours, museums, exhibition, sanitation, safety, maintenance). Unfortunately, the tax revenues surplus provided by tourism development can only partially finances the required public services improvement. So, to cover emerging financial requirements, policy-makers may be inclined to gradually cutback public services such as caring of aged people, nursery school, forestry services, youth policies, maintenance of underground pipelines, and of rural roads. Under a dynamic point of view, a continuing reduction of public services to inner area population will gradually decline “community of place” quality of life.

Furthermore, economic growth moves upwards the consumption of both natural and physical resources such as urban space, soils, water, and public service capacity. In particular, sustained tourism and business development push against inner area natural resources endowment (e.g., use of water basin, countryside, and mountains) which might not be found adequate to the need of resident population and/or aligned with traditional activities such as agriculture and farming. Also, charging current economic development on environmental and intangible resources endowment (e.g., knowledge, culture and rural tradition) may endanger the integration between past and present. This outcome is not consistent with the aim of regeneration, which is fostering resilience and safeguarding historical roots of a place.

Looking at business profitability, the evidence of an increase in tourism presences will cause that non-professional players will show-up offering – perhaps through Airbnb or booking listings – rooms and services at prices which are not aligned with the industry standards. If not properly managed, such mismatched competition compromises business pay-offs and may have unavoidable implications for service quality, inner area attractiveness, and future development. Notably, diminishing return on investments is likely to promote a short-term-oriented mindset within the business community affecting both capital and current investments. Such mental model, may mislead business owners to step down from high quality renovation projects of building and urban spaces or from being partner of community development projects. If that will happen, the worth of the design of new and renewed preexistent built environment may not be adequately compounded with the architectural typology characterizing the context. Also, reluctance to sustain community development projects slacken inner area social capital and, even more so, if widespread among entrepreneurial leaders. A situation like this, leave an open field for those activities merely searching for public spaces as source of capacity.

To recap, although improving tourism can be considered a relevant goal for renewing an inner area, pursing such policy may conceal a number “strategic surprises” whose occurrence may herald important and counterintuitive side-effects. If not properly managed, these limitations are likely to affect business profitability, quality of life, and threaten natural, physical, relational, and intangible resources.

This example has shown how the multidimensionality of performance and inherent features of inner area complexity can be associated with sustainable regeneration. Particularly, these elements concern long-term effects, mental models, policy resistance, resources endowment, cross-boundaries relationships between outputs and outcomes. In this perspective, the discussion has highlighted how disregarding these factors may compromise sustainable regeneration.

Integrating the core of sustainable regeneration with a three-dimensional view of results enables measuring both the extent and levels of performance under a dynamic point of view. As figure 1 displays, economic, social and environmental fields are at the heart of policy design. Consistently, related policy results are gauged along three interrelated perspectives of analysis: 1) span, 2) depth, and 3) time.

In this sense, the three-dimensions are additive: from an internal point of view, the outer element includes the inner positioned on the same line; from an external point of view, each perspective consistently reflects the measurement it proposes on the other two. In this way, such model focuses on relevant fields characterizing sustainable regeneration and prevents vanishing measurements of policy performance.

Figure 1 – An integrated model of sustainable regeneration policy for inner area

The “span” perspective measures the extent of performance and distinguishes outputs and outcomes: the first are intended as policies throughput resulting in products and services (Bouckaert & Halligan, 2008); the second are the ultimate effects of policies and services. The “depth” perspective gauges organizational and community level performance (Levy, Meltsner, & Wildavsky, 1975; Smith, 2013). Lastly, the “time” perspective refers to short-term results (i.e., outputs) and long-term effects (i.e., outcomes). The additive nature of these perspectives allows to systemically read the measurement of a performance dimension on the corresponding dimension placed on the other two perspectives. For example, an increase in population is an outcome of regeneration policies, whose measurement primarily relates to span perspective. Outcome measurement can be associated to organizational or community level performance and framed as long-term result, consistently with its nature. Such integration is possible by reflecting the outer dimension of the horizontal perspective on the vertical and diagonal perspective, respectively.  Embodying sustainable regeneration within a three-dimensional perspective of performance makes measurement consistent with policy design. Similarly, regeneration can be a way to pursue sustainable development if the needs of community of place (e.g., inner area residents) and those of community of interest (e.g., business owners) can be compounded by community development projects (Mezirow, 1963; Osborne, Williamson, & Beattie, 2002; Schler, 1971). To this end, inner area policy-makers have to adopt effective methods to support leadership and networks in promoting the development of collaborative governance regime (Ansell, 2012; Axinte, Mehmood, Marsden, & Roep, 2019; Emerson & Nabatchi, 2015). Also, such method should bridge policy design and implementation, promote integrated measurement and accountability, and support adaptation through stakeholders learning.


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