Regeneration without gentrification? Challenges in transforming the urban space

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Global and Strategic Marketing Research Centre

Dr Alessandro Biraglia is a Lecturer in Marketing at Leeds University Business School. His research interests focus on the areas of consumer behaviour, branding and decision making.

Leeds canal and buildings

In recent years a great emphasis has been placed on the regeneration and rejuvenation of urban spaces. Cities around the globe have been undergoing massive programmes of public and private expenditure that have transformed their structure. Entire areas have been transformed and redeveloped, with derelict and partially abandoned neighbourhoods becoming attractive residential and commercial venues.

Leeds is certainly one fortunate case in this regard, with the establishment of Trinity Leeds shopping centre in 2013, the reshaping of Leeds Kirkgate Market, and the more recent refurbishment of the central rail station concourse to name a few.

From a marketing perspective, the change in the retail spaces and their offering plays a crucial role on the impressions individuals form about a neighbourhood’s characteristics. While roaming around a neighbourhood, consumers can make their own judgements on how liveable, secure and enjoyable an area of the city could be: the mere presence of certain retail outlets rather than others is a key indicator of the composition of the areas of the city. Previous research has also shown how, like in the marketplace of the Middle Ages, the shops on cities’ high streets or malls constitute the gathering place for individuals to meet and socialize.

However, due to the rise of online shopping – where everything is a click away from the consumer – and also because of the slow capability of “physical” retail space to innovate, such social transactions among individuals are nowadays more and more sporadic. Together with this social vacuum, the empty units on the streets contribute to a general degradation of the neighbourhoods’ environment. Therefore, the creation and rejuvenation of retail spaces (together with residential and working facilities) has contributed to reshaping the landscapes of cities.

While this process has proven to be successful in a series of cases, in others it has had serious consequences on the displacement of the original communities living in the areas in favour of groups from different social classes. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “neighbourhood gentrification” and it has been documented as having a great impact on the authentic identity of the neighbourhoods and its inhabitants. Hence, two question arise: are there viable strategies to rejuvenate neighbourhoods without gentrifying them? Can local councils, businesses, communities, developers, and academics co-operate for this sustainable rejuvenation?

On 11 March 2020, we are hosting an Ideas in Practice Event at the Carriageworks Theatre in Millennium Square, Leeds, bringing together different stakeholders’ perspectives, starting with what has been done – or is currently ongoing – for the regeneration of cities and then moving on to possible future plans for co-operation.

I will present the preliminary results of my investigation on how individuals construe rejuvenation and gentrification of neighbourhoods through their perception of retailing spaces. We will then have presentations by a diverse set of panel members – from the industry, the arts, and policy making – that will provide more detailed perspectives on what is going on in the rejuvenation of Leeds. We will wrap-up the event with an open panel discussion that will give the audience the opportunity to interact, followed by more chances to network afterwards.

To register your place for this free event, visit the webpage.

Related content

Project webpage: A tale of two (or more) cities: Neighbourhood rejuvenation through sustainable retailing and marketing strategy

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University business school or the University of Leeds.