Shrinking cities workshop at the URBACT conference.

Shrinking cities seem to be happening everywhere, especially in the wake of the recession with the American industrial city of Detroit as one of the most dramatic examples of a city which decreases in size. At the URBACT conference in Copenhagen last week I learnt that the majority of smaller and medium sized cities in Europe are actually shrinking. Traditionally economics would propose growth as a solution but with less people and contracting demographics, growth does not seem to be an option.

The URBACT group which has worked on this issue said that this is rarely simple and that complex shrinkage requires new answers and solutions around three key things:
  • Land and buildings
  • City functions and economics
  • Services
Furthermore, workshop leader, Hans Schlappa mentioned that a key issues across all shrinking citis in the project was an ageing population.
Following tips and things to strive for are:
  • Downsizing to regain a balance – be positive, shrink smart.
  • Land recycling – not abandonement.
  • Innovative adaptation of buildings and urban spaces.
  • Service adaptation – not less service, eg. maybe a city needs less kindergartens if the population is getting older.
Finally, Hans mentioned that each city should at what hidden advantage your city has?
Neil McInroy from CLES has similarly some years ago talked about how cities need to find their DNA as one of eight principles for being resilient.
Along the same lines Phil Wood talks about looking at each city’s weaknesses and strengths.
The conclusion and the main recommendation of this work was that cities should look to develop a demographic action plan. I think there are other things we need to look at too to make viable and vibrant cities, we cannot do this only based on data but we probably can’t do it without looking at data either.
You can read more about the URBACT work group’s finding here.
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