Why Is Collaboration Not Working In Cities? Lecture by Adam Beck | FUTURE CAPE TOWN

“Our mindset is the obstacle. The rules and legislations we made are the main reasons why building innovative green cities is complicated.”



A review of the lecture by Adam Beck on driving collaboration to achieve Urban Regeneration.

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Adam Beck’s experience has stretched across multiple continents, having worked in cities like Portland OR and Washington DC in the US, Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and Calgary and Ottawa in Canada, which has given him a degree of perspective on urban regeneration processes. Consequently his talk didn’t focus entirely on the impact of urban regeneration or successful forms and typologies, rather it focused on the Achilles heel of urban regeneration processes; governance. The central question of his lecture was; “what governance structure best positions the plan for implementation?”

Urban regeneration has to come from the neighborhood

Adam Beck introduced the city of Portland as a good example because the city has a relevant story related to process of urban renewal. He noted that urban regeneration is a difficult thing to achieve because it is “a complex collision of factors and actors”. “It has to be done through the scope of the neighborhood and each place has different needs, this is why it is important to work with and within communities” noted Beck.

Many of our urban regeneration challenges involve a diversity of stakeholders, competing forces, entrenched mindsets, institutional agendas, and business-as-usual interests that will often work against positive change. Making progress will be messy. Failure is guaranteed. The steps we take, both forwards and backwards, need to be within context, and with a common goal of implementation”

Finding a new approach

This is why Portland is an interesting city to work in and it inspired Adam Beck and his collaborators to develop a structure for engagement in the process of redevelopment. Their particular brand of district management or district organisation is not common in the US, but after three years of exploration and research to see and understand how a district grows, they found an unusual way to manage urban regeneration.

The research group discovered that the largest barrier to the urban regeneration processes is not funding or technology, but how stakeholders interact with one another to identify the problem, better define it and to solve it; governance.

So the question was: “What governance structure best positions the neighbourhood or precinct for implementing integrated sustainable development strategies?”

What was the response? They established a collaborative governance model for urban regeneration which includes all the stakeholders at every step of the process, builds social equity, and strengthens the resilience of a place. Key steps include:

  1. Declaring a commitment to collaborative action,
  2. Co-defining the sustainability goals, targets, and metrics for the community,
  3. Co-designing a governance model for the community/project,
  4. Co-creation of a neighbourhood investment roadmap, and 
  5. Co-funding and co-delivery of integrated strategies


Collaborative governance as a solution

Including the stakeholders at every step of the process is the core of a collaborative governance. But what does it mean, and how to apply it properly? As Adam Beck presented, there are few frameworks that help:

It is necessary to develop positive relationships and trust among stakeholders, to build greater accountability, to stimulate problem solving and address complex dilemmas. But also, to build greater equity and social inclusion in decision making, and inspire for innovation.

Beck then gave some guidelines:

  • Coming together to exchange information
  • Framing relevant issues
  • Engaging in problem solving activities
  • Generating and evaluating options
  • Develop mutually acceptable solutions
  • Secure endorsement


Government is not governance

There is a growing recognition that it takes more than government, or any one sector acting alone and this is not a matter of governmental reform, but of finding better governance mechanisms” said Beck. Beck referenced researchers Christopher Ansell and Alison Gash, who note that “Collaborative governance has emerged as a response to the failures of downstream implementation and as an alternative to the adversarialism of interest group pluralism and to the accountability failures of managerialism”.

Definition of collaborative governance : “Collaborative governance is “a set of processes and structures for communities to address public problems that can’t be easily solved by one organization or sector alone.”

Relating the topic back to effective precinct and neighborhood-scale sustainable development, Beck adds that “it requires a new model of civic-public-private partnership that emphasizes innovation, transparency and collaborative action”.


Walkability as an economic development driver:

Beck also praised the role of walkability within neighbourhoods and downtown areas as being part of an economic development strategy. This was the starting point for the regeneration of Portland where they realised that walkability and pedestrian areas – through a mega pilot project could be a great tool to improve the quality of life in a city, increase land values – and ultimately the economic activity and development. 


“You give more space for people to walk in the city. You create “community streets” or it is close to the notion of “complete streets”. It actually means that you allow more space for opportunities to be taken. People enjoy having their breakfast or lunch in a pedestrian-friendly street. They become more attracted to the idea of spending time in public spaces, and as a result they consume more in local shops around them”.

A pilot program to pave the way

Another key point raised by Beck underlined in his lecture was the importance of pilot programs to spark action. Important principles of a pilot project should include:

  • A leader or leadership leading to a clear vision that motivates all parties to take risks
  • Engagement that includes learning, discussing and co-creating solutions together
  • Collaborative governance structures in place that formally bind diverse actors to make collective decisions and investments

Beck ended with a positive conclusion and a call to action. He noted that while it would certainly take time before the stakeholders get used to another paradigm, an innovative and bold governance model is a constructive way forward to the current challenges cities face.



Adam Beck is Director of Centre for Urban Innovation, a consulting practice collaborating with urban leaders to build sustainable communities and cities. He is an Ambassador of Portland Oregon based non-profit think tank, EcoDistricts, and was previously Executive Director at the Green Building Council of Australia. Adam also spent almost a decade with global consulting firm Arup. An environmental and social planner by trade, Adam currently works as a strategic advisor, facilitator, peer reviewer and trainer for organisations advancing urban regeneration projects. He is a member of the Research and Innovation Committee of Urban Land Institute Australia and has previously been involved with the C40 Cities Climate Protection Group and World Green Building Council. Adam spent four years as lecturer in social impact assessment and community engagement at the University of Queensland and maintains strong research interests in collaborative processes for community development.


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