By Matt Mauler
This post introduces the notion of reclamation before outlining three approaches to its practice in contemporary urban environments. Although widely perceived as a positive process which addresses inadequately used or derelict urban space, I offer insights into some of the negative effects associated with reclamation. I conclude by stating why reclamation warrants discussion and communication to a wider, non-academic, audience.
Reclamation may be understood as that which encapsulates various development policies such as urban ‘regeneration’, which is defined as the enhancement of the social, economic and environmental conditions of an area. Another example of reclamation is urban ‘redevelopment’, which is the physical, and often functional, transformation of a space. And a third is that of urban ‘restoration’, which is simply the attempt to preserve, or reinstate, a place’s historic significance, local culture or identity. Altering the urban landscape by any of these often interlinking urban policies can be thought of as ‘reclaiming’ urban areas whilst not necessarily expanding them. Within the past three decades, cities in Europe, North America and far and South East Asia have all seen such forms of reclamation take place, particularly targeting waterfront areas.
The first approach to be presented is that of ‘economic reclamation’ and may be defined as the general development of an area with the primary intention to increase its economic function – the amount of money it may generate for those with invested interests and the local economy. Practiced throughout both the public and private sector (i.e. planning, design and construction industries), those who adopt the approach are often accused of treating modern cities merely as investment opportunities which, upon their success, fuel the next reclamation project and pursuit of capital. The second approach is that of ‘access reclamation’ which is primarily concerned with the removal of existing barriers which impedes any type of access citizens may have to an urban area. Examples include the assurance of social accessibility (i.e. feeling welcome – somewhere ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘exclusive’), economic accessibility (i.e. the financial capability to use or acquire the facilities of a development) and practical accessibility (i.e. disability or road access – the removal of physical barriers). The third approach is ‘local reclamation’ and may be understood as that which attempts to reinstate the local characteristics and identity of an area.
Figure 1. An example of economic reclamation on the waterfront of Singapore as investors have developed commercial buildings which have attracted the occupancy of transnational companies (image source: The World Bank, 2015).
Figure 2. An example of both access and local reclamation in Seoul, Japan as the city’s riverside area has been regenerated, redeveloped and restored after intense urbanisation during the 1960s. The construction of innovative road networks has increased accessibility and mobility throughout the city whilst also enabling the Cheonggycheon River to be opened for both public and private use after years of being covered by arterial roads  (image source: Great Ecology).
Although introduced separately such approaches to reclamation are often linked to one another, with access reclamation often the ‘common denominator’ between economic and local approaches. For example, in order for a more commercially focussed urban development to succeed and maximise its economic potential, those investing in the project must ensure certain levels of accessibility, especially that which concerns practical and economic access. Whereas those seeking to reclaim areas to reinstate the sense of local identity must ensure social accessibility and prioritise creating an inclusive and welcoming urban environment as opposed to that which is exclusive and perhaps unwelcoming.
With regards to the economic and accessibility approaches, researchers claim one of the major effects of reclamation is the homogenisation of cities, in relation to their aesthetics (i.e. visual appearance) and culture. Homogenisation is defined as the process of removing individuality as elements, in this case buildings and public urban spaces, are altered to become more uniform in appearance and purpose. International investors and global connectedness (i.e. globalisation) are viewed as the main reasons for the loss of culture and identity in cities as they implement ‘low risk investment formulas’ worldwide. Such investment strategies entail commercial and residential buildings with modern interior and exterior design which are located within close proximity to local amenities and the waterfront, for which developers may charge a premium. However, although seemingly positive in a sense that urban space is being re-used in order to contribute to the economy and equip cities with modern images and identities, such a process of homogenisation simultaneously serves to strip away and marginalise the local values, identity and heritage of the area.
Another example of reclamation’s negative effects is that such a process may, intentionally or unintentionally, serve to exclude certain groups of people within society. As reclaimed spaces are stripped of their local characteristics, purpose and identity through low risk investment formulas and homogenisation it is understandable how locals may feel a degree of exclusion and a loss of place affiliation as areas are reimagined for the benefit of others (i.e. non-locals). A further negative example is that in addition to economic reclamation, the more ‘ethical’ approaches of seeking increased accessibility and local values/characteristics may also exclude people from an area through the process of gentrification. Defined as the physical enhancement of an area which subsequently attracts people of higher social and economic class, through any form of reclamation there is an inevitable upgrading of an urban area, which consequently serves to enhance the desirability of local neighbourhoods. Such investment leads to increased house prices which, over a period of time, entail those of lower socio-economic class being replaced in the neighbourhood by those of more wealth. This occurs as residents look to capitalise on their increased house value and sell to higher earners or as landlords look to increase rental values which only people of certain economic standing may be able to afford. Such a process results in an element of exclusivity and socio-economic exclusion in reclaimed, and gentrified, areas.
To conclude, perhaps such an overview of reclamation and the attempt to provide a more balanced account of its approaches and associated effects to a wider audience has raised awareness, and encouraged a more critical perspective, to contemporary urban development practices. As modern societies around the world continue to expand and urbanise it is plausible to suggest that reclamation may become more prevalent in the near future through the increased opportunity for modern urban space to be ‘reclaimed’. Although such areas may be viewed as strong contributors to the local economy, aesthetically pleasing and more accessible, they may also remove elements of local culture and become exclusive to those of higher socio-economic class. Researchers state that those within the public and private sector who practice reclamation through the aforementioned approaches must seek to curtail their negative effects without compromising those which are more positive – to ‘resupply’ urban areas to society as opposed to ‘repossess’ them  .
 See Paddison, R. and Sharp, J. (2007). Questioning the end of public space: reclaiming control of local banal spaces, Scottish Geographical Journal, 123(2), pp. 87–106.
 See Boddy, M. (2007). Designer neighbourhoods: new-build residential development in nonmetropolitan UK cities – the case of Bristol. Environment and Planning (39) pp. 86 -105.
 See Cowell, R. and Thomas, H. (2002) Managing nature and narratives of dispossession: reclaiming territory in Cardiff Bay, Urban Studies, 39(7), pp. 1241–1260.
 See Newcastle University, (2015). The Cheonggyecheon River Restoration Project: The Restoration of Environmental, Social & Economic in Seoul. Available at: http://2014-2015.nclurbandesign.org/tag/restoration/
 See Chang, T. and Huang, S. (2011). Reclaiming the City. Urban Studies, 48(10), pp.2085-2100.
Boddy, M. (2007). Designer neighbourhoods: new-build residential development in nonmetropolitan UK cities – the case of Bristol. Environment and Planning (39) pp. 86 -105.
Chang, T. and Huang, S. (2011). Reclaiming the City. Urban Studies, 48(10), pp.2085-2100.
Cowell, R. and Thomas, H. (2002) Managing nature and narratives of dispossession: reclaiming territory in Cardiff Bay, Urban Studies, 39(7), pp. 1241–1260.
Newcastle University, (2015). The Cheonggyecheon River Restoration Project: The Restoration of Environmental, Social & Economic in Seoul. Available at: http://2014-2015.nclurbandesign.org/tag/restoration/
Paddison, R. and Sharp, J. (2007). Questioning the end of public space: reclaiming control of local banal spaces, Scottish Geographical Journal, 123(2), pp. 87–106.
John Hawkes, (2017). London – Centric. BBC. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-248d9ac7-9784-4769-936a-8d3b435857a8
The World Bank, (2015). Case studies – Singapore. Available at: http://urban -regeneration.worldbank.org/node/72.
Great Ecology (2015). Available at: http://greatecology.com/