The Effectiveness of Urban Renewal Strategies in the Sydenham Road Area of Sparkbrook
Identification of a Question Sparkbrook is a typical inner city area of Birmingham; predominantly Victorian and Edwardian in character and its multi-cultural society live in a deprived district suffering from high unemployment and a generally poor quality environment. For such reasons it is part of a ‘regeneration’ scheme and this investigation will assess the success of this scheme.
Development of Strategy The aim of the urban renewal programme is; to create sustainable structures of economic regeneration, to encourage business development and diversification, and to find solutions to serious social problems caused by the crisis situations that are common in many depressed urban areas. In order to assess the effectiveness of such plans both secondary – 1981 census detail, ward information and web sites, and primary data were collected. Unemployment levels, annual earning figures and the number of people that are employed in professional or managerial jobs are all great measures of the economical aspects. A marked positive alteration in these figures would indicate a success in the regeneration programme. Social aspects can be measured by reviewing crime rates, car ownership, private amenities and the property ownership - private or rented. The amount of pollution in the area, the aesthetic appreciation and housing density are all good measures of environmental aspects. Together the analysis of these three aspects and how they have altered since the programme has been introduced, should highlight the areas of success and failure thus showing the effectiveness of the scheme.
Collection of Data The area of regeneration has undergone several changes in the past few years. For example a modern fitness centre had to be closed, as it was no longer financially viable, this is evidence that the local area is non-affluent as the people are unable to sustain a gym. In 1993 the aesthetic value of the area was heightened when the canal walk was opened. The linear areas along the canal are now going to be protected and enhanced. This is of great importance because the heavily built up character of Sparkbrook results in little space for recreational areas. A high percentage of the shops in Sparkbrook are closed and as the money available for housing improvements is strictly residential the shops that are present appear worn and in need of repair. The area also suffers from serious traffic congestion and so parking bays have been created along Fallows road, however the traffic still accumulates and when the stretch of road is clear it could encourage speeding as it is a stereotypical ‘rat run’. A fair amount of the housing has benefited from the government grants and sections of the terraces are fitted with new windows, roofs and doors. However, there are still houses remaining that require attention just as much as the ones that have received it, but for reasons such as inaccessible landlords the work has not been carried out.
Analysis, Evaluation and Interpretation
Comparing the recent census with the previous one shows little alteration in unemployment levels, which are considerably above the city average and in the early 1908s and 1990s there was a mass recession which lead to the decline in industrial activity within Sparkbrook. Likewise car ownership is much lower than the city average. Such results may indicate that any new businesses in the area employ people from outside Sparkbrook. This could be because the locals are not suitably skilled for the available jobs or there are language barriers and there are no facilities to learn.
If the local people are not unhappy with the current living conditions they are unlikely to aid the regeneration programme. Some people go as far as saying that it is ruination that is being carried out and not regeneration. The properties need paint and repair not tasteless PVC, before 1990 wooden windows were used. Also the Victorian detail is removed from the ornate door surrounds, and elaborate windows are replaced with vulgar modern ones. It could be argued that the only development that directly influences the lives of the majority of the locals is the Islamic centre and Masjid that is under construction and is funded by private donations.
In Sparkbrook a reasonably high proportion of the properties are rented–39.7%. This indicates a lack of money in the area, as local residents are unable to afford their own home. However, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of people living in local authority accommodation as more people are buying their own homes or renting privately. The regeneration is by no means complete and plans are in place to make further improvements to the local area, such as new commercial development and traffic calming schemes. For the people there are also going to be training schemes, as there is an obvious skills shortage.
Presentation of Summary Looking back at the work that has been carried out and the various reactions and problems that the regeneration programme has had to endure it is not easy to establish whether the regeneration programme has been a great success or a sorrowful failure. Both the old and new walls and posts are graffitied, the local people have not reduced their unemployment level, and people that feel strongly about the period feel to the area appear outraged at the insensitivity of the urban renewal plans.
However, new businesses have been brought to the area, parking has been improved, and many of the houses have been updated and given more curb-appeal with neater gardens. It is unfortunate that not all the houses in a row could be updated simultaneously, and that some residents are not actively encouraging the scheme. It is the combination of these factors and that fact that the area has not really changed that has resulted in the scheme not reaching its full potential.