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Think big, act small – challenges for event-led regeneration


Planning-led regeneration around big events such as the Commonwealh Games must be more sensitive to the needs and characteristics of host communities, say Julie Clark and Ade Kearns.

Tackling the social and economic legacy of industrial decline is a big challenge facing our more long-established urban areas. Given competing demands on diminishing public resources, it is not surprising that many cities have looked to mega-events as a means of leveraging funding for masterplan-led redevelopment.

In 2007, Glasgow won the right to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, promising a positive legacy for its deprived East End. By 2016, this event-led regeneration effort would be considered relatively successful, but our in-depth qualitative research with residents in the Dalmarnock area highlights three issues for planners.


“For host communities, the Games is a long and onerous process of change more than an event”

First, the spatial scale of event-led regeneration can seem relatively large to those living nearby, and we found a rapid distance-decay in relation to resident identification with the Games. While planners delineate an area for intervention on a map, say, the ‘East End’, for local people this may comprise several distinct communities with different complexions and priorities.  

Second, the construction of time for a mega-sports event into three periods – the pre-Games delivery, Games time, and post-Games legacy – is insufficient.

Not enough thought is given to the effects on host communities of pre-Games development disruption, nor of Games-time arrangements (parking, security).

For host communities, the Games is a long and onerous process of change more than an event – that’s something planners should not simply pass over as the responsibility of delivery agencies, as it affects the community’s commitment to change. 

For some residents, experiences of urban change and disruption go back further than the defined pre-Games period. A communication strategy with a longer narrative arc is required. Third, ways must be found to solve the limitations of market-led change, for example, while state-led clearance removed the few remaining shops in the area, planning has failed to ensure their replacement five years later.

Planning for an event-led regeneration programme for any host city or community must be fine in detail, granulated by its elements of time, space and process to ensure that those most affected experience more benefits than disbenefits.

Julie. Ade, and colleague Claire Cleland were highly commended in the RTPI Early Career Research Award 2016. Read their paper, ‘Spatial scale, time and process in mega-events: the complexity of host community perspectives on neighbourhood change’ at: tinyurl.com/planner1016-megaevent 

Julie Clark and Ade Kearns are early career researchers in planning at the University of Glasgow


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