24 May 2017

Can education act as a catalyst for regeneration?

Universities have a dual role in regeneration, both in the provision of education and collaboration on projects, and in the impact of their own institutions on their surroundings, according to a discussion at Going Global 2017. The session also touched on the responsibility of universities themselves in development.

Architect and urban designer Pooja Agrawal, of the Greater London Authority, said she had encountered several universities who were looking to consolidate faculties and sell land for development. She said that rising land value created tension within cities, asking “How do we create that right tension and mix between culture, industry and housing?”

Dr Melanie Dodd, programme director of Spatial Practices at Central Saint Martins’ UK said: “Universities do have a cultural and ethical relationship with the neighbourhood they sit in.” There were many examples in London where a university that had been in a neighbourhood for a long time before it had sold up and moved, and the land it leaves is ‘devoid of the cultural impact that it once had’.”

She said of Saint Martins’ move to a new development at Kings Cross that “most of the students and also most of the staff were quite uncomfortable in this situation of being placed as almost the icing on the cake of this new development.” The university was now surrounded by a privately-owned public space.

The panel discussed the positive and negative factors of teaching in cooperation with public and private bodies.

Dr Dodd said that all their teaching projects at Saint Martins involved ‘real elements’. “There’s a client, a community or set of stakeholders that’s real and deliverables that are real,” she said.  Students had been brought into design discussions about student accommodation and had surprised developers with their objections to current schemes.

“Students were highly critical of student accommodation as provided by developers. They are provided by universities as enclaves but don’t integrate into the community around it,” she said.

She said it was important that while universities were increasingly co-opted into the corporate capital of a city, that they kept their role of understanding culture and pushing back.

Professor Zeegen said that there could be limitations in public and private partnerships but universities should enter into such agreements with “eyes open”.

He said such arrangements also needed to be particular to the education experience, and that it was “not about undercutting business”.

 “Sometimes industry has some reluctance to be informed by education, and that’s where there’s sometimes tension,” he said.

“We’re able to say that doesn’t work for us. It’s not an interesting educational experience,” he added.

Tensions in such commercial relationships could also provide an educational experience.

“It’s great for the students to be involved in those moments where things aren’t working exactly the way you want them to,” he said.