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The darker side of urban regeneration

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The darker side of urban regeneration

On 7 December, session two of the Peace and Sport Forum will focus on business investment for social good. As a preview to the event, sportanddev.org looks at an important part of the urban regeneration story.

As Earth's population reaches seven billion and higher, worries regarding urban overpopulation have increased. This growth of urban populations have also increased the number of slums, caused worsening air pollution and led to waste management issues. The international community is recognising the problems and is pushing for better cities through the sustainable development goal 11 which calls for urban regeneration and inclusiveness.

There is another side of urban regeneration, one which lacks inclusiveness and harms low-income households. When cities thrive with businesses, improved transportation or new infrastructure, a new middle class population will be attracted causing housing prices to go up. Consequently, low-income residents will be displaced or even become homelessness. This phenomenon has been sometimes coined as gentrification, which studies have shown leads to a lack of diversity as well as local services to be altered for new resident demands.

In Brazil, the issue came up during the preparations for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Many people believe that major sporting events have a positive economic impact which spills over to positive social impact. However, a report by The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre shows that the new improvements in Rio displaced 6,600 families who were living in favelas or informal settlements in 2015.

This began in 2009. Many families moved to low-income housing projects in the outskirts of the city, increasing their commute to work by an average of 50 kilometres. Those who were displaced had to move away from their social networks and women were mostly affected by causing them to be isolated in the new communities. According to the reportSchools and health centers have also been difficult to access in some cases, either because they are remote or because provision is tied to place of residence.”

In Jamaica, the issue is not gentrification; it is a reduction of public beaches that are accessible to the locals due to the increase of resorts and hotels. As the tourism industry grows, there are fewer recreational spaces for the locals. Backed by international organisations, the government has set policies to preserve natural resources, which primarily include beaches. However, the tourism industry is a main economic driver on the island and certain political figures are pushing for the privatisation of some beaches.

This is mostly problematic when looking into social issues in the country. Jamaica’s poverty rate which sits at 20 percent with around 27 percent of youth being unemployed. Going to a public beach can be one of the only free recreational activities available and  beaches provide a space for physical activity. Limiting recreational options, with possible consequences to publich health.

Making cities sustainable has proven to be challenging, not only in the two above examples but also so many others such as London, Los Angeles, New Dehli and Cairo . Yet, if the idea of urban regeneration has acquired new emphasis because of its inclusion in the sustainable development goals, perhaps it requires a new and deeper understanding. This should include the prioritisation of recreational spaces that promote physical activity without sidelining the needs of local people.

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Monday, December 4, 2017 - 12:32

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