Who benefits from urban restructuring?

Do cities work for or against their citizens? Urban specialist, Dr Gabriela Rendón, studied that question in New York City and in ‘The Randstad Holland’, and she arrived at two different outcomes.

Born in Mexico and working across the border in both Tijuana and San Diego, Rendón became interested in the continuous urbanisation process and its consequences for its inhabitants. This inspired her to pursue graduate studies in urbanism at TU Delft. Over a decade later, she is still, or perhaps even more, involved in the fate of the inhabitants in the process of urban renewal.

City centres are packed and have become unprofitable for investment. Consequently, investors are looking for suitable areas for urban development outside the city centres. Abandoned industrial sites and low-income neighbourhoods offer attractive opportunities for urban investors.

Rendón identified and compared two such areas: Tarwewijk in Rotterdam (Randstad Holland) and Bushwick in Brooklyn, (New York City). Both neighbourhoods have suffered from industrial decline, followed by unemployment, poverty, rising crime rates and a dramatic shift in population in which immigrants replaced the working class. Both neighbourhoods experienced years of economic, social and physical decline before they became the subject of urban renewal. But local responses and policies meant that the outcomes in both cities were totally different.

In New York, urban revitalization is regarded as an opportunity for speculation, competition and economic growth without planning. The city basically opens up a post-industrial district to global corporations as an investment, and luxury condos emerge from derelict depots. Little attention is paid to, and even less protection given to, the inhabitants. This results in vulnerable families living in basements or illegally subdivided apartments, and even on the streets because they can’t afford the raised rents.

Rendón notes that residents and stakeholders have very little influence in the decision-making process

‘On the other hand,’ Rendón writes in her thesis, ‘in the Randstad Holland, the state has deliberately defined where, how and when development should take place in low-income and segregated districts, and coordinated activities with social entities and private developers.’ Rehabilitated housing units usually end up being owned and managed by local housing associations rather than by commercial housing agencies. Thus, in districts like Tarwewijk, urban regeneration programmes continue to provide housing for the existing residents.

Rendón underlines that urban regeneration (Netherlands) and urban revitalization (US) descend from the earlier urban renewal program, which itself doesn’t exist anymore.

While appreciative of the protection that municipalities and housing associations offer residents against the power of money, Rendón notes that residents and stakeholders have very little influence in the decision-making process. She recommends that the ‘rigid and highly regulated Dutch institutional and policy frameworks’ open up to more participation of local residents and stakeholders.

  • Gabriela Pérez Rendón, Cities for or against citizens?, 10 March 2018, PhD supervisors Professor Vincent Nadin and Dr ir Paul Stouten, Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment.

Science editor Jos Wassink

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