The abandonment and decay of urban historic areas, including heritage buildings, has been a major challenge in cities. This process is the result of the co-evolution of social, economic and technological developments experienced by industrialised countries, in adopting the knowledge-based economy. Some of these areas have been targeted as urban renewal projects, while others remained vacant and abandoned. For the latter, a focus on innovation in cities has presented an opportunity to shine again in redefined ways. Recently, some historic areas have been brought back to life by accommodating research and entrepreneurial activities. 

Based on these posted novel views, there has been drawn upon also the recommendations by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO 2011) for the management of historic urban landscapes (HULs) (Berg 2017) or areas. In addition, those recommendations have been started to take into account and successfully implement also in several EU-level topical projects (e.g., Horizon 2020) as a leading course of actions.
Although implementing regeneration processes has not always been successful, the transformation of historic areas into innovation hubs seems to offer the potential to deal with challenges such as social tension, gentrification, and over-reliance on unpredictable sectors. The presence of creative sectors, students, start-ups, social innovation, and cultural activities are seen as factors to reap the potential of regenerating these areas into innovation hubs. However, more research into these factors is needed. 

This paper aims to identify the critical factors to successfully regenerate historic urban areas and looks at the potential role of universities and other stakeholders facilitating the transformation of these areas into innovation hubs. Thus, this paper asks: What are the critical factors to regenerate historic urban areas and what is the current/future role of universities in it?

Through a systematic literature review and a conceptual analysis, this paper seeks to identify the current state-of-the-art in urban regeneration of historic urban areas, linking various theories and fields of studies explaining the phenomenon. The outcome of this paper is a conceptual model providing an overview of the strong and weak foundations of urban regeneration to set the course of future empirical research into the role of universities.