Funded project to address urban shrinkage

Dr Vlad Mykhnenko, Associate Professor of Sustainable Urban Development, has secured a three-year, £1.4 million research grant to discover feasible solutions to the problem of urban shrinkage.

As Principal Investigator, Vlad will lead a consortium of 9 European universities and charitable organisations, with funding  from the Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe ERA-NET Cofund Smart Urban Futures (ENSUF)

The problem of urban shrinkage

Urban shrinkage has been on the rise since the latter half of the 20th century. In the UK and Europe, it affects more than 1,500 cities.

'The issue of urban shrinkage has become the new normal across Europe: a large number of urban areas find themselves amongst the cities losing population. According to the latest estimate, one in five cities in the European Union today is experiencing population loss, whereas in the new member states of the former Communist bloc this figure reaches 70%', said Vlad.

Though appearance of shrinkage is fairly universal—empty city centre shops, falling property values, reduced town-centre vibrancy – causes for urban shrinkage can vary. They might include the removal of business and jobs from the city core to cheaper land on the periphery, out-migration and disinvestment of capital, an aging population, a dwindling tax-base and reduction in social and infrastructure services, a perception of better opportunities elsewhere – or a combination of all of these.

Vlad is the Principal Investigator for the research project ‘3S RECIPE: Smart Shrinkage Solutions - Fostering Resilient Cities in Inner Peripheries of Europe’.

Dr Anna Badyina joins Vlad – and the Department for Continuing Education – as researcher for the duration of the project. Anna will be assisting the Principal Investigator and the 3S RECIPE research consortium in the successful delivery of its work programme outcomes and deliverables, and in meeting the project’s milestones. She also will take part in the UK research component of the project, collaborating with the Co-Investigators from the University of Birmingham and B-Arts on the Stoke-on-Trent case study.

Focusing on success

By learning from the experience of the cities that once were on the edge of an abyss but have bounced back to life, by sharing the key ingredients of their success across Europe and beyond, the project aims to help as many shrinking cities as possible to adapt, transform, and thrive in the face of continuously and often dramatically changing circumstances.

'What we really want to know is how a shrinking city – of a relatively modest size, located in an inner peripheral position vis-à-vis the naton’s largest urban centres – can re-build a growing economy, with a sound municipal finance base? We also want to learn how such shrinking cities can create a more compact and connected urban environment for their remaining inhabitants? And we also want to see how a shrinking city can improve its attractiveness and foster vibrant local communities and neighbourhoods,' says Vlad. 'The transformation of Dessau in eastern Germany – the city that once gave us Bauhaus – from a post-Soviet wasteland into a pleasant place to be is the kind of smart shrinkage solution this project will focus upon.'      

The transformation of a Soviet-style block of flats into terraced single-story houses: Dessau, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, May 2010. (Photo: Vlad Mykhnenko)

3S RECIPE will take a cross-disciplinary approach. Working with urban practitioners, social scientists and policy-makers, the project will identify a) what works in a shrinking city context, and b) how the underlying forces of urban shrinkage can be reversed in order to convert these cities into sustainable, liveable, and economically resilient urban environments.

Outcomes of the project include:

  • Tackling the key socio-economic causes of urban shrinkage;
  • Future-proofing sustainability actions in urban re-development and regeneration; and
  • Enhancing the role of long-term strategic planning.

It is hoped that the project ultimately will embolden civic leaders, national, and international stakeholders to embrace the best smart shrinkage practices and apply the most forward-looking urban resilience solutions.

An international effort

The 3S RECIPE research consortium comprises the University of Oxford as the lead organisation (Dr Vlad Mykhnenko, Project Manager) and eight other European partners, including:

  • B Arts in the UK (Mr Trevelyan Wright, Beavers Arts Ltd),
  • Intercultural Institute Timisoara in Romania (Mr Calin Rus, Institutul Intercultural Timişoara),
  • Normal Superior School in France (Prof Emmanuèle Cunningham-Sabot, École Normale Supérieure Paris),
  • University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands (Dr Marco Bontje, Universiteit van Amsterdam),
  • University of Birmingham in the UK (Dr Peter Lee),
  • University Lodz in Poland (Dr Szymon Marcińczak, Uniwersytet Łódzki),
  • University of Porto in Portugal (Prof Paulo Pinho,  Universidade do Porto), and
  • West University of Timisoara in Romania (Dr Bogdan Nadolu, Universitatea de Vest din Timişoara).

The £1.4 million research grant is shared across the consortium, with £540k going to Oxford as the lead institution.

For more information:

Published 11 April 2017