Difference between regeneration and redevelopment

by Vic

Reviewed: May 31, 2024

Visitor Question: What's the difference between Regeneration and Redevelopment?

Editors Reply: We have to imagine that you thought we were never going to answer your question. We are sorry if we are no longer timely, but we have been taking plenty of time to contemplate your question and make sure our answer is accurate and helpful. As you have no doubt figured out, we are all U.S.-based authors and therefore are not exposed to the term regeneration very often.

So when we received your question, we began monitoring and paying close attention to the use of "regeneration" in the British press and government documents, and in other parts of the globe influenced by the British. At first glance it appeared that there is little difference in the terms and that they sometimes are used interchangeably. We noticed that the British and Australians will sometimes use "redevelopment" in the same article as "regeneration" when they grow weary of repeating the word regeneration too often.

But in reading a range of articles, we notice that regeneration often has a broader meaning than the American term redevelopment. Regeneration in the U.K. seems to carry the connotation of a general revitalizing of an area, which may include physical, economic, and social programs and projects. Americans typically would call that broad effort at making a community livelier "revitalization" and not think to call it regeneration.

Americans often mean demolition and new construction when they use redevelopment, but then we love tearing stuff down more than Europe does. Of course usage of the term redevelopment in the U.S. also sometimes means refurbishing existing buildings--especially when converting them to a different land use--or adding infill structures.

It seems that in the U.K., regeneration may involve refurbishing of buildings, anti-poverty programs and employment skills training, rebuilding of infrastructure and green space, neighborhood-oriented social or crime prevention activities, remediation of environmental hazards, and a host of activities supporting business.

In fact, regeneration seems to encompass a wide range of policies that include all or most of what we consider community development on this website. We also saw the term community development in U.K. articles, but mostly community development seemed to have a people-centered connotation there and only occasionally be tied to regeneration programs. Do let us know in the comments if you think we are wrong. We should note that both in the U.K. and U.S., the terminology has been heavily influenced by government programs and usage.

An important difference is that we saw many references to physical regeneration or economic regeneration in British local government usage, whereas in the U.S. redevelopment is always physical. We do not speak of economic redevelopment; it is just "economic development" here, even if we are describing programs to deal with deindustrialization or other broad economic trends.

Another difference in language usage that we have noticed when traveling in the U.S. is that the British speak frequently about estate renewal, a concept unknown in the U.S. We refer to housing programs or housing rehabilitation for one or many homes, so if you wanted to read about estate renewal on this website, for instance, you would need to look in the housing section.

At this website we like the regeneration term because it seems to give a nod to the idea of creating and nurturing something, whereas the American term redevelopment more often than not just means destroying something so we can start all over instead of doing the hard work of thinking about the architectural and cultural context and how we might retrofit the existing building(s) to address contemporary needs and preferences. On this website and increasingly in American environmental circles, we talk about regenerative design, meaning a landscape design that not only does not make environmental conditions worse but actually remedies or remediates past mistakes. Maybe the regeneration idea for buildings and land uses could take hold here too.

We think you could easily look through the pages in the redevelopment, housing, and other sections of this website to find ideas readily applicable in London, or in Toronto, Brisbane, or Nairobi. Yes, sometimes we are backward in our use of the language, and we also spell "neighbourhood" wrong hundreds of times on this website, but the basics of community development, community revitalization, or regeneration remain the same whether on your side of the Atlantic or ours.

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