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Strategies for mastering the art of regeneration

A look at this week's issue suggests that the word masterplanning is suffering from an image problem.

Paul Latham of the Regeneration Practice states a preference for 'neighbourhood plans' which he describes as 'social, environmental and economic plans with a public-realm spatial element'. Of course, it is possible to argue that a decent masterplan should be able to embrace non-spatial phenomena, but there is an assumption that this is not the case. Michael Owens of Leaside Regeneration reports that his team chose not to work from a masterplan on the basis that it would prioritize spatial planning at the expense of economic, social and cultural concerns.What's more, he suggests that a masterplan may actually hinder regeneration by being too prescriptive and inflexible.

In this light, it is easy to see the psychological significance of replacing 'master', with its dictatorial connotations, with the rather more snuggly 'neighbour'.

But the word 'plan' is equally problematic. In the architectural sense, a plan has a tendency to present problems and solutions in a rather simplistic way.

Zoning is more readily conveyed than a complex multilayering of uses, and even where sophisticated presentation techniques are able to communicate highly complex plans, there is still undue emphasis on physical space. Certain issues - such as possible avenues of funding - can only be described in words. In its more general sense, the word plan is inappropriate in that it implies a fixed blueprint for action. But as Terry Farrell points out, a good masterplanner should expect to enter into a constant process of reassessment, adjustment and reappraisal - we need strategies rather than plans.

It is easy to see why the architects are inclined to cling to the concept of masterplanning. Architects produce masterplans: neighbourhood strategies (or any similar term) sound suspiciously like the preserve of politicians and community groups. In fact the two are mutually dependent. A masterplan cannot - and should not - be an all-embracing blueprint for the future.

But a spatial strategy is an essential component of any regeneration plan.

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