Sustainable Brownfield Regeneration: Liveable Places from Problem Spaces

Frances Plimmer (Senior Research Officer, The College of Estate Management, Reading, UK)

Journal of Property Investment & Finance

ISSN: 1463-578X

Article publication date: 25 April 2008



Plimmer, F. (2008), "Sustainable Brownfield Regeneration: Liveable Places from Problem Spaces", Journal of Property Investment & Finance, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 277-279.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The UK government's declared policy of ensuring three million homes by 2020 seeks to ensure that 60 per cent of this development will take place on brownfield sites. The need to understand the UK policies, processes and practices in brownfield regeneration is therefore vital for all stakeholders involved in the provision of the government's stated housing target. However, this book is not merely about the provision of residential accommodation. Perhaps more importantly, it recognises the wider need of urban environments for sustainable outcomes and is therefore of relevance for those involved in securing urban regeneration for a range of social, environmental, recreational, commercial and financial outcomes.

The stated aims of this book are two‐fold. Firstly the aim is “to examine the ways in which science and social science research disciplines can be brought together to help solve important brownfield regeneration issues”; and the second is “to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of different types of regeneration policy and practice, and to show how ‘liveable spaces’ can be produced from ‘problem places’” (p. 5).

The text reports on the outcome of a research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), called SUBR:IM (Sustainable Urban Brownfield Regeneration: Integrated Management). SUBR:IM was a research consortium formed in 2003, designed to deal with the perceived discontinuities of previous attempts at dealing with the technologies of regeneration of brownfield sites, which had often done so in a deterministic way and without incorporating an understanding of the impact on communities and other stakeholders, and vice versa. SUBR:IM brought together ten major research institutions to work on 18 inter‐related projects: the researchers involved had a range of relevant experience and were drawn from a wide spectrum of science and social science disciplines.

SUBR:IM had four principal themes:

  1. 1.

    the property development and investment industries and their role in brownfield regeneration;

  2. 2.

    the process of governance and multi‐level decision‐making relating to brownfield regeneration, including institutional structures and community engagement, risk, trust and systems of democratic representation;

  3. 3.

    the development of robust technical solutions to contamination and the examination of the impact of climate change within this; and

  4. 4.

    the ways in which integrated solutions to brownfield renewal can be developed, including how the greening of former brownfield spaces can open up new opportunities for urban regeneration.

The book documents the core evidence and findings from the SUBR:IM research projects in a series of chapters, grouped around the main headings of Regeneration, Remediation, and Joined up Solutions. The contents are presented, not as a collection of research papers, but as a framework within which the various chapters can be integrated and developed in a theoretically focused and robust manner. “[The book] adopts an integrated approach to the subject by drawing on the lessons learned from the research, not only from the individual projects themselves, but also from the synergies established through the process of working together in a multidisciplinary team” (p. 4). All of the SUBR:IM projects developed cross‐cutting methodologies and approaches, with some which were designed to weave together the broader research findings.

There is an English focus to the book, with case studies drawn from the Thames Gateway and Greater Manchester but it is clear that the problems dealt with within the text are not uniquely English, although the organisational policies and processes may be.

Of particular interest to researchers is the Introductory section of the text, which uses the experience of the project to provide a reflective and instructive review of the team's experience in multi‐disciplinary and cross disciplinary research which, as they say, “is likely to become more and more significant across the social and technical sciences as the value of such work in tackling multiple urban problems becomes more apparent”. This section discusses what it calls “the challenge to disciplinarity” in order to break down boundaries which limit outlooks and perspectives and which undermine the potential for researchers to develop broader and more imaginative perspectives and ways of viewing the world. The text also introduces the concept of transdisciplinarity “which has as its core concept a break away from disciplinary thinking by not only unravelling complexities and confronting disjointed knowledge, but also by creating new knowledge paradigms for solving problems” (p. 13). This Introduction concludes with “four core findings” which have significance for other work in this field:

  1. 1.

    such consortia have the potential to make researchers think more actively about their own expertise, what it consists of and how it relates to other disciplines;

  2. 2.

    multi‐disciplinary research needs to be a key element in the very early phases of the process if it is to develop into anything like an effective work programme and genuinely transdisciplinary ways of working; as well as common conceptions of key terms;

  3. 3.

    the formation of effective user networks and dissemination strategies is a core part of the programme; and

  4. 4.

    resources need to be available for “consortium‐building”, including the organisation of leadership, and for the early management processes which are both time‐consuming and distracting from the intellectual and academic questions raised by the research.

Inevitably and appropriately, however, the focus of the text is on the very specific issues of regeneration, remediation and evaluation of the greening of brownfield land and will be recognised as an extremely valuable contribution to an ongoing and important process. As a substantive and authoritative investigation and demonstration of one country's approach to a very widespread issue and process, this book should attract international interest.

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