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Towards a sustainable urban development?

A research carried out at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid highlights the weaknesses of urban regeneration strategies that have been made in our country (Spain) over the last years.

A female researcher from the School of Architecture at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) has carried out an analysis of the urban regeneration programs developed in Spain within the framework of urban policy in the European Union. Although this work identifies positive contributions, it does not meet the expected results in terms of sustainability of actions and the participation of the local community.  The conclusions contribute to the reflection of future initiatives of regeneration in our country (Spain) that go towards more inclusive cities.

This research is focused on the study of the Urban Initiative, an instrument of integrated urban regeneration that proposes to address the degradation of the neighborhoods through strategies that combine the interrelated action on the governance, environmental, social, and economic dimensions of decline. This instrument was launched in the framework of the urban policy of the European Union (EU) in Spain and developed between 2007 and 2013, and was cofounded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) with EUR 344.6 millions.

This study addresses a key issue since over 75% of the Spanish population live in cities, mainly in consolidated urban areas. To regenerate and take care of cities are the major challenge of the contemporary society and the excellence activity of the urban planners of the 21st century.

The purpose of these regeneration actions is to improve the dynamics derived from the degradation of the neighborhoods that have negative consequences in the quality of life of citizens, the urban environment and the economic dynamics of the city, among others. Thus we need to assume the paradigm of sustainable urban development through integrated strategies that include citizens and other relevant actors in the process of design, implementation and monitoring, all this within a framework of agreement among administrations.

In order to better understand the Urban Initiative in Spain, Sonia De Gregorio, a female researcher from UPM, has carried out a research that highlights the effort made by Spanish cities to access European funds in order to enhance their degraded areas through strategies of integrated urban regeneration. Likewise, Sonia suggests that many cities are facing important limitations when addressing this task.

In particular, Sonia found difficulties to develop integrated regeneration strategies based on the understanding of the interrelation among neighborhood problems, difficulties to ease the process of participating that involve the local community, attracting private funds and coordinated perform o the administration.

This work also reveals that few cities are able to integrate key aspects such as energy efficiency in building and urban planning, sustainable urban mobility, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, gender perspective, etc. As a result, Sonia de Gregoria says, “the strategies launched have improved a specific area, but they will have difficulties in the future since they do not contribute sufficiently to neither the reinforcement of the local capacity or the improvement of sustainability”.

This work belongs to the UPM research line focused on the EU Urban Policy and its influence in the field of urban regeneration in Spain. This research line has also addressed the URBAN Community Initiative (1994-1999) and URBAN II (2000-2006) and is currently focused on EDUSIs (Integrated Sustainable Urban Development Strategies).

The results encourage further reflection on the need to review the EDUSIs and future regeneration initiatives in our country at the political, academic and technical level. Likewise, this project provides a critical approach on the urban regeneration in the context of the development of the Urban Agenda for Spain.

S. De Gregorio Hurtado: Is EU urban policy transforming urban regeneration in Spain? Answers from an analysis of the Iniciativa Urbana (2007-2013). Cities 60, 402-414 (2017).

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