Incremental Densification 4 Urban Regeneration.

How to align the interest of public, private and communities?

How to align the interest of public, private and communities?

The environmental and housing crises require new approaches to urban growth.  One of the most complex aspects to increasing housing supply, commercial opportunities and community services is the problem of convincing local residents to accept new levels of density in their neighbourhood. Next to community engagement, the UK Construction Industry has been trying for years to create a genuine market demand for energy efficient retrofitting, thus pursuing the international targets to tackle climate change.

So far, housing shortage, gentrification and sustainable retrofitting have rarely been approached with an integrated approach. Our integrated approach is Incremental Densification. 

Starting from retrofitting, it is fair to say that extended permitted development rights in the UK have momentarily delivered a boost to construction micro businesses and SMEs. If we could couple extended permitted development rights with financial incentives for low carbon, passive technologies and renewables we may be able to ignite a stronger demand.

Incentives can go a long way but next to benefits to property value and lending finance, new energy must be found to communicate the wider positive impact of a reduced carbon footprint for the built environment. If we were to share energy and CO2e data of urban regeneration openly, we could easily demonstrate how benefits for the individual go hand in hand with reduced emissions, increased carbon sequestration and public good.

What most sustainability assessment tools and mandatory energy performance certification fail to highlight is the enormous contribution to CO2e related to demolitions and to the treatment of construction waste prior to landfill. While the industry keep patting their own shoulders with marginal unitary performance improvements, very few care to project the overall impact of rising demographics. At social level, the current development models do very little to limit the demolition of existing neighbourhoods thus triggering negative effects of gentrification.

How can we increase density, delivering carbon neutrality and avoid gentrification?

Our proposal starts with an overarching incremental densification masterplan aimed to assess local urban growth holistically. The second step is then to approach the private homeowners individually and collectively through digital engagement and social media. The majority of Government retrofitting incentives schemes is simply unknown to the main public and a wider communication campaign would raise awareness and increase public – private collaboration. P2P lending and investment sharing economy schemes such as Lending Circle or Kickstarter could be used to lower the interest rate of development loans compared to the conditions provided by the Green Deal. Participatory planning excercise can turn the instinctive territorial refusal to any alteration of the status quo into a proactive and collaborative contribution to improving the neighbourhood.

Our recipe is simple and effective:

1. The overall CO2e and Fossil Fuels consumption of the regenerated area has to be equal or smaller than the existing condition.

2. Retrofittig and energy efficiency measures will reduce the environmental impact of the existing housing stock, thus creating a carbon budget, which will define the increase in housing density.

3. Existing urban fabric cannot be demolished, only maintened, altered and extended.

4. Local Community engagement is carried out at the outset of the masterplan phase to derisk the project organically and gain positive externalities.

Our recipe for incremental densification starts with a retrofitting masterplan where similar housing types are identified and grouped together for economy of scale. A traditional speculative developer would then need to raise finance and acquire all the land working against the clock to limit financial costs. Our approach is based on the engagement of the local community aimed to foster a sense of reciprocity and empathy. Once a part of the entire ownership of the land identified in the masterplan is engaged and is actively contributing to the neighbourhood retrofitting scheme, a pre application process can start allowing private and public interests to be aligned. The pre planning consultation of incremental densification is the key enabler of an organic de risking chain of events, which is based on communication instead of a typical speculative developer’s allocation of risk budgets. Instead of treating local community as a cost, we know that an engaged community can be an asset.

Data Analysis, IT and Participation offer an powerful platform to foster collaboration and cooperation to deliver urban regeneration focusing at once on profit, people and planet.

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