Role of Urban Regeneration in Shaping the Future: A discussion On Urban Identity

Abstract – This paper provides an analysis of the rising significance of Urban Identity in the domain of Urban Regeneration. The world has become a small village, through global trade, media, space flows, economic connections, free exchange of people, ideas and money. Cities and their qualities in terms of the urban environment have become a key element in competitive advantage and in driving economic investment and progress.  Therefore, There is a continuing challenge for urbanists to make cities eligible to attract global markets through trade and tourism.But at the same time, they are also struggling to keep their cities distinctive and unique. Today,In an emerging global world, there is a growing recognition of the  need for an individual city’s urban identity.

To sustain future growth, Urban Regeneration focuses on re-using the existing available resources and areas through well informed and creative adaptation strategies. Which will help countries grow culturally, economically and politically so that they can have a standing on the world stage, therefore delivering their people the quality of life that they deserve. Urban identity adds quality to a project, it is therefore a major component of urban regeneration tools. Based On this trend the author predicts the future cities to be unique and self-conscious.

Tags & Index Terms – Urban Regeneration, Urban Identity, Communities, Sustainability


Urban regeneration encompasses many facets, ranging from renovating the urban landscape and restructuring its layout, to regenerating culture, creating more jobs and also creating an overall sense of national identity. This is the kind of regeneration that can be exactly what a society needs to turn it around and really garner a feeling of togetherness. Urban regeneration has been there in practice for years, with the cities revamping themselves in order to become better. Which can mean anything like creating more roads, motorways and transport systems, as well as creating new residential areas, industrial sites, and commercial areas. All of the stated factors come together to contribute to a better society both politically and economically.

Regenerating cities can take place on the ground level also, not just through building work. Many Regeneration projects are currently taking place to create jobs for people in order to give them and their families a better quality of life. A major role in development is teaching people new skills areas, so that they can further their careers, and contribute to society in a variety of ways. Cultural regeneration lays the foundation of regenerating the urban scene, as it creates a sense of self for a country, and helps in bringing people together. As we know, a country is made up of its citizens, and to have citizens understand who they are, feel a sense of belonging in their surroundings, and feel that they are contributing by working can certainly aid this.

Health is also a major factor in regenerating urban scenarios as a healthy population is a happy one. The regeneration projects, also aim to bring clean water supplies to people in cities and giving them proper drainage facilities. Which means that diseases are less likely to spread and this basic amenity is provided to everyone who needs it. Other projects involve sewage preparation, as well as effective sanitation measures put in place.

Preserving the cultural heritage of a country and city has a huge, long lasting impact. The regeneration of this kind does not only bring new life to a place, but also enhances the quality and longevity of that city’s life and vibrancy. Installing hugely important basics gives a city the foundation that it needs to blossom.With all these versatile goals that regeneration aims at, it will help countries grow culturally, economically and politically so that they can have a standing on the world stage, therefore delivering their people the quality of life that they deserve.

The Need for Urban Identity

Urban identity is most often articulated by the use of a historic distinctive urban form, an architectural style,and design solutions, while utilizing local building materials and construction techniques. Historic environments with their constructions have provided a unique pictorial image of the city before they were drawn up in a sea of global environments. This study firmly believes that regenerating districts by taking inspiration from past can really play a major role in reconstructing the present cities, vanishing urban identities. The need for a city identity is imperative as it provides harmony between “constant” and “changing” elements; people and events, which are integrated by a mutual link that makes a specific city unique and distinctive(Lynch,1960).Relph has highlighted the need for place identity, by arguing that: “A deep human need exists for associations with significant places. If we choose to ignore that need and follow the forces of placelessness to continue unchallenged, then the future can only hold an environment in which places simply do not matter. If, on the other hand, we choose to respond to that need and transcend placelessness, then the potential exists for the development of an environment in which places are for man, reflecting and enhancing the variety of human experience” (Relph,1976,p. 147). Therefore, it can be determined that urban identity has become a pressing need in the present city, especially with the emerging globalization trends across the world. Urban identity has is a complex subject that many renowned researchers and urban planners try to tackle from different angles

The five major aspects that can play an important role in reinforcing a local urban identity; continuity, uniqueness, significance, compatibility and cohesiveness (Kim,2000,pp. 451–452). These five aspects will form the conceptual framework to analyse a city and design a regeneration plan for it.

Urban Regeneration and Identity

In the current scenario, Cities have become rapidly homogenized through a process of globalization, what can help them stand different is the continuity of their local traditions and cultural heritage. There are pressures to change land-uses triggered by a number of forces like economic, environmental, socio-cultural or a combination of them all. Urban regeneration has been introduced to represent various strategies to change the built environment in order to encourage economic growth, while being careful about not deleting its urban identity(Jones And Evans,2013). Cities as we know are permanently shifting; land-use changes and districts are redeveloped; the urban areas grow at fast pace and are most often ripe for massive redevelopment projects(Jacobs,2013). To deal with these versatile changes, various urban regeneration projects have been introduced to revitalize the declining ancient city centers,especially the  old industrial and harbour sites, the old residential areas and diluted historic centres and districts of the cities. Moreover, Urban Regeneration is a long-term ambition that involves attempts to rectify complications in old urban areas by improving their economy along with their physical environment, which forms the spirit of a city’s urban identity. Moreover, urban regeneration aims to alter the nature of a city by involving the local inhabitants and various stakeholders to attain a number of objectives and targets (Turnbridge et al.,1996) This climaxes the need to encourage the community participation and bottom up approaches in regenerating areas and districts as a mode to reinforce the sense of unity and consequently identity. There is a strong relationship between urban regeneration and identity. Also, upgrading the built environment, social fabric and urban spaces within the historical urban structure all contribute towards growing adoption as places for public meetings and exchange. This consequently increases social interaction and cohesion between the citizens. As a result, Regeneration aims at  re-affirming and fostering residents feelings of identity and sense of belonging within the spirit of the past. Urban regeneration of historic centers contributes towards upgrading their environmental, economic and socio-cultural quality to a large extent as a major driver for change. Development projects taking place in historic areas can attract both the local and global visitors.

Msheireb Project

To realize “uniqueness “of a place, there is a basic need to differentiate the native place from other places. The new buildings should integrate and respect the local historic built environment. Therefore, the conservation of cultural heritage and the development of new built structures regarding the old can majorly help reinforce a uniqueness of a city. To ensure “significance”, local monuments and historic districts are being conserved to maintain a ‘Sense of Local Identity’. Lynch (Lynch,1981) defines importance of place in terms of the presence of historic events and other symbolic qualities that are manifested in some buildings or districts of a local community. In order to reach “compatibility”; the new buildings in a historic area should definitely attain a contextual fit with the existing historic built environment and not create any kind of conflict that weakens the local urban identity. In addition to this, “cohesiveness” can be achieved by creating a homogenous built environment and not a fragmented one with a myriad of styles. In this manner, a coherent design pattern would help in strengthening an identity of an area. In nut shell, historic districts can play an active role in sustaining the uniqueness of their cities in the present and future. In dealing with the built heritage, there are many types of interventions in a historic city; preservation, repair, stabilization, restoration, reconstruction, replacement, rehabilitation and regeneration is one of these. The latter, however can retrieve some aspects of the past to be a catalyst for reconstructing the lost identities of the present cities (Austratin,1999).

In 2008, the Msheireb project was launched over an area of 35 hectares. The initial construction of the project began in January 2010. Located in the downtown area of Qatar’s capital city, it is set to occupy 310,000 sq m with the total cost of construction $5.5 billion approximately. The aim of the project is to bring back the Qatari families to the downtown area after their massive departure to the periphery during the year 1950s and 60s. The intention of the project is to foster and restore the idea of a community life inspired from the concept of traditional neighbourhood called “fareej”. In terms of regeneration, the aim of this project is to improve the environment and boost the economy of the area. The main objectives of the master plan are

  • To promote a sustainable way of living within a compact city framework
  • To renew a piece of city infrastructure in order to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel;
  • To promote better integrated social communities at the heart of the city having walk able neighbourhoods, public spaces and amenities;
  • To modernize a piece of Qatar’s capital city in a fashion that will resonate with local history and cultures.

In order to implement these objectives, various modernization challenges are addressed in the master plan. Some of them are

  • The short-term profit driven motives
  • Fragmented land ownership and its impact on the development pattern
  • Local climate and its impact on movement and urban form
  • The loss of community spirit and identity in the process of modernization
  • Image of the city-creation not substitution.


Figure 1 Msheireb Downtown Doha (plan)

The plan of Msheireb integrates a variety of activities with areas of specific character. Some of the areas are mainly residential while others are a mixture of retail and commercial space. The new fareej (district) integrates a diversity of town homes within easy access to various services and amenities. A very important characteristic of the project is the vibrant public barahas (plazas), courtyards and gathering spaces that are extremely rare in Doha.In order to encourage walkability, cars are strategically placed underground in several basement levels. Urban regeneration of Msheireb has tried to lay the ground and show the path through building a new urban identity that is inspired from the past.


Figure 2 Msheireb Downtown Doha (view)

Rebuilding the Image Of Shehri Khaas

In the thesis project of M Arch,Urban Regeneration the author proposed a reconnect of a part of old town Srinagar (Shehri-Khaas) called Naagar Nagar with the rest of the Srinagar city. Regenerating the old as a catalyst to sustain a city’s urban identity and life remains a central question for the historic cities all over the world.This project has been done following the same line of thought.

The city of Naagar Nagar was constructed and expanded by the Mughals on the site of a previous capital city, Parvarapura founded by Raja Parversena in the 6th century AD.It is one of the largest walled cities of medieval period existing in the Indian Subcontinent and has served as the administrative centre of the Mughal rule and Pathan rule in Kashmir.It Is located on Hari Parbat which is revered as the pebble dropped on the demon’s head by Goddess Sati.It is said to have become the home for all 33 crore gods of the Hindu pantheon. It has been a place for celebration of festivals and rituals. And encompasses religious institutions of all faiths that gives it a name of secular mountain. The hill is of huge cultural, religious and historical importance. But this part of old town has been inaccessible to the people of the city because of long term Militarization. Home to people of 3 different Religions and 4 different countries, Naagar Nagar has remained disconnected for a long period of time, rupturing the social fabric of the city as well.


Figure 3 Od town srinagar (plan)

The approach to reconnect Naagar Nagar with the city would be to manage resources on site for Community Driven Recreation Programming to Facilitate Social Inclusion and promote tourism. Management of these resources will act as vector for the precinct development as well. Address all barriers which may stop people to participate in the programs and activities, hence reducing the opportunities for social inclusion. To ensure Effective Community participation from management to service delivery for the whole program. The aim is to preserve and revitalize soul of this historic city to reflect its unique character by encouraging aesthetically appealing, accessible, informative & secured environment.

This can be achieved through Development of destinations/Circuits and providing Tourism Supporting Infrastructure. Streetscaping can be a potential method for the promotion of Accessibility and Mobility on site. Creating Community spaces will help to cater to the social split within the site as it houses people of different ethnicities and will also enhance the livability quotient on site as there is lack of civic spaces. The activities proposed are according to the need and the common interests of the local communities. Also, Community based resource sharing will be a key element of the whole plan. This approach will not only create cohesion but will also cater to the imageability of Srinagar, and will help sustain its uniqueness as A historic city.


Due to the rapid urban changes, it is mandatory that urban identity be monitored on a regular basis in order to understand the diverse trend changes that might compromise a city’s uniqueness and distinctiveness. Urban identity of a city however stands on the dual characters of “individuality and uniqueness”, that encompasses both stability and dynamism. This is not only about physical and implicit make-up but at the same time an important tool and reference for designing sustainable cities. Most importantly, Urban identity does not mean blind copying from the past, but also requires deep and thorough research and investigation of its principles. Identity can never be fossilized as a set of styles but it should rather be considered as a dynamic process like life itself. Which is a great challenge. More research is required to find the finest ways to regenerate the past as a catalyst for sustaining urban identity within the emerging global environments worldwide.

However, Responsibility for shaping, managing and re-imagining the built environment is shared by all sectors of the society: communities, central and local Governments, design and building professions, financial institutions, specialist agencies, clients who commission buildings and the building industry. Without having a well-informed and engaged public, creation of a high quality built environment may be difficult to achieve. Therefore, lot of projects with a sustainable approach are being initiated keeping into consideration the uniqueness of the cities which will help cities to keep their individualistic character alive and assure quality development at the same time.

A dynamic method of accomplishing significance demands a very strong, collective participation of residents. By involving the local community, “feeling pride or feeling good” about living in their city will grow as collective aspects of the community begin to be meaningful to their lives. The major challenge for architects, urbanists, policymakers, legislators and all those involved in the future of cities and towns is to recognize the importance of urban identity in a global world and to enhance policies for its sustainability.


First and above all, I praise God, the almighty for providing me this opportunity and granting me the capability to proceed successfully. Thanks to all my close friends and family for their moral and spiritual support in all aspects of my life. I would also like to thank the respondents who were involved in the validation survey for this research, without their passionate participation and inputs, the validation survey could not have been successfully conducted.

Author Bio: Ar. Qurnain Rashid, has done M Arch in urban regeneration from Jamia Milia Islamia,Currently pursuing PGCGI from IGNOU.Winner of Award for excellence in the category of optimum space utilisation. With an experience of over five years in both teaching and industry.The author is Senior architect/Urban Regeneration  Practitioner at DesArt Studios and Member Of NGO Sehreeti,a platform of ‘collective practices’ which engage with the urban environment.


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