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Title: 'Problem neighbourhoods' in a part-linear, part-network regime :problems with, and possible responses to, the housing market renewal leviathan
Authors: Webb, David Kevin
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis investigates the knowledge and governance practices that surround the way government has pursued sustainable communities by trying to balance housing markets in supposedly low demand areas. The government‘s housing market renewal initiative has been characterised by fifteen-year masterplans proposing a mix of housing redevelopment and refurbishment to attract higher income households. Academic research has been drawn upon to argue that this approach is evidence based. However, opponents of the approach dispute the dominant vision of progress, fearing a loss of heritage, home and community. The thesis shows how the housing market research which has justified and directed renewal was informed by previous attempts at slum clearance, and by the centralisation and marketisation of housing policy. The investigation disputes the objectivity of that research, highlighting instead its use to uphold a discursive technology, or black box, which joined up the interests of housing and local government institutions with central government decision making arenas. The co-ordinating qualities of this black box were initially pivotal to securing funding for deprived, depopulated and hard-to-manage areas. However, as renewal schemes progressed, the black box cultivated an increasingly rigid and opaque approach to decision making. This approach satisfied a demand for co-ordination within a distinctive governance regime, which is referred to as a part-linear, part-network regime. The linear component of this regime is made up of central government technologies of control, based on universal ideas of how cities work and linear, statistical attempts at measurement. The network element is made up of alliances of regional, sub-regional and local actors from the public, private and third sectors. Central government seeks to use the part-linear, part-network regime to maintain control, while allowing sub-regional and local actors enough flexibility to co-ordinate the interests of a fragmented local state spanning public and private sectors. The dynamics of the regime have encouraged the development of guarded alliances between organisations working together to pursue public and private funding in a period of macro-economic housing market boom. This has crowded out less well connected interests and narratives, even when these have had an informed and coherent epistemological basis. The subjugation of these arguments runs counter to knowledge-based policy making, which requires earnest consideration of the way issues are understood by different actors. For these conceptual reasons, housing market analysis approaches to policy making risk being ineffective and socially unjust.The thesis uses an exploration of housing market renewal schemes, principally in Liverpool, Merseyside and Whitefield in Lancashire, to test the conceptual argument above. It illustrates the importance of institutional cultures and local networks of opposition to the way that the housing market renewal black box has been imposed. The local state in Liverpool is highly co-ordinated and well connected. Multiple pots of funding are located within a meta-partnership regime, which employs black boxed housing market narratives to demonstrate joined up policy. Despite vociferous opposition, and successful legal challenges, this strong form of organisation has driven through centrally prescribed proposals for the redevelopment of part of the Kensington neighbourhood. The level of organisation in Liverpool contrasts with the less well co-ordinated and less well funded environment in Whitefield. Expert-led proposals for clearance of the Whitefield neighbourhood were challenged at a public inquiry and compromise was negotiated through an enquiry-by-design. Even so, highly organised objectors were unable to break open the housing market renewal black box and therefore could not generate discussion around the viability of alternative problem framings and responses. The cases highlight a conflict between the need for mechanisms of long distance persuasion and control to distribute central funding to shrinking cities, and the capacity to exploit local knowledge and opportunities when designing responses. In both of the cases above, the end of a boom period in the housing market adds a new layer of complexity to the disputes. Schemes are at risk of being undermined by the recession and solutions are needed if a legacy of neighbourhood blight is to be avoided. The thesis concludes with a personal suggestion that more equitable and effective approaches to renewal require deliberation around less capital intensive responses to creating local employment and tackling neighbourhood blight.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

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