Urban renaissance developments: searching for inclusive alternatives to (re) constructing young, middle class and childless central and inner cities

Project summary

Darling HarbourThe research provides a comparative, cross-national study of how and why the presence and absence of children is naturalised within different urban-renaissance inspired schemes. Building upon a University of Reading-funded small scale, largely quantitative study of new-build developments in Reading, this research involves a qualitative, in-depth study of the complex processes underpinning the transformation of urban contexts in Reading and Porvoo, Finland. This project investigates the motives and strategies for the production of child-inclusive or exclusive, urban-renaissance development. We aim to build collaborative links for a future, large-scale international project.


There is a tendency for new-build gentrification to reproduce the ‘absence of children’ within inner-cities/urban cores of the UK, Australia and North America. As Gleeson et al. (2007: 33) note, from the Australian context; ‘under current planning and development trends children have effectively been planned out of the new compact city’. Yet how children are included or excluded within new gentrified urban spaces has not been fully empirically substantiated, despite being a key tenet of current policy debates (e.g. Urban Task Force (UTF), 2006). In the UK context, eminent planner/geographer Peter Hall (2007) recently argued that a salient contemporary issue for society is the out-migration of affluent families with children from gentrified urban neighbourhoods to more ‘family-oriented’ suburban/rural locations, leading to unbalanced population structures of central/inner urban cores. According to Hall, the construction of increasingly childless populations in the central/inner urban cores is being fuelled by the development of new-build gentrification as part of urban-renaissance schemes. It is argued that new urban policies are required to facilitate the inclusion of families with children in the inner-urban core; which would yield balanced and sustainable communities. These linkages between urban policy, new–build gentrification and unfolding population structures circulate within national and local media discourses. This research project examines the dynamic processes mediating the absence of children in ‘urban renaissance’ zones (typically brown-field sites, characterised by mixed residential, retail, and leisure development). Arguably, these emerging urban geographies may be unintentional consequences of urban policies to promote ‘positive gentrification’ as a tool for urban regeneration, often involving the production of residential commodities (e.g. loft-living, apartments and penthouses) for affluent and childless, relatively young professional, or ‘empty-nest’, households. Paradoxically, this diverges with leading urban policy imperatives for balanced and sustainable communities (DCLG, 2007). Recently, the significance of children and child-related issues (e.g. schooling) has been explored by scholars of gentrification (Butler, 2007; Bridge, 2006), with a distinct focus on ‘classical’ landscapes of gentrification. Clearly, there is a need to extend this lens of enquiry to ‘other’ sociospatial contexts of gentrification, and in particular, sites of new-build gentrification. In short, there is merit in investigating how and why children are often naturalised as absent in urban-renaissance zones.

Aims and Objectives

The research is exploring how and why some British and Finish central/inner city cores are reproduced as ‘childless and middle class’, focusing on ‘urban-renaissance’ sites within Reading and Porvoo, Finland. The research provides cross-national comparisons of child-inclusive gentrified developments to suggest possible new directions for UK policy approaches. The aims will be fulfilled by addressing the following questions:

  1. To what extent do national-level (UK and Finish) urban-renaissance policies discursively include/exclude households with children?
  2. How are these policies interpreted by local actors (e.g. private sector developers, local policy makers) to produce urban-renaissance environments that include or exclude children in specific local contexts (Reading; Porvoo)?
  3. What kinds of urban geographies are being (re)produced in Reading and Porvoo?
  4. Do these emerging contexts reflect residents’ preferences?
  5. Can the West Bank development, Porvoo case study inform UK policy formulations for the production of more child-inclusive urban-renaissance developments?


The research is funded by the British Academy for the period of January 2008 to April 2010. Dr Sophie Bowlby and Dr Louise Holt are involved in the research.

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