Seven Solutions to the Problem of Urban Shrinkage

Urban shrinkage is the new normal across Europe: one in five cities in the EU today is experiencing population loss; in eastern Europe the figure is 70%.

Now, a new website and series of films highlight successes won by seven cities which have bounced back, reversing the blights of urban decline. The research project is called ‘3S RECIPE’, which stands for ‘Smart Shrinkage Solutions’ (3S), Fostering Resilient Cities in Inner Peripheries of Europe (RECIPE). 3S RECIPE is the brainchild of Dr Vlad Mykhnenko, Associate Professor of Sustainable Urban Development.

‘At the turn of the millennium, Europe had about 1500 cities that were losing population,’ says Vlad, adding, ‘and I use the term "Europe" broadly as a geographical concept that includes everything from the Urals to the Atlantic. We also found that 42% of medium-sized cites, cities with populations of 200,000 or more, were shrinking – i.e., losing population.’

Shrinking cities – the new normal

The appearance of urban shrinkage is universal: empty city-centre shops, falling property values, reduced town-centre vibrancy. But the causes for urban shrinkage can vary.

The ‘drivers’ of urban shrinking might include the removal of business and jobs from the city core to cheaper land on the periphery, out-migration, disinvestment of capital, an ageing population, a dwindling tax-base and reduction in social and infrastructure services, perception of better opportunities elsewhere – or a combination of all of these.

After identifying the key drivers of shrinkage, the project team focused on seven representative cities: medium sized cities, with populations between 200,000 and 600,000. They were also in the middle of their countries – ‘cities on what we called the ‘inner peripheries’ of Europe,’ says Vlad. One of the seven is the city of Stoke-on-Trent in the UK.

Each of the seven cities suffered urban shrinkage as a result of the drivers described above – and each had taken steps successfully to reverse their decline.

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

Vlad says, ‘The 3S RECIPE project website went live earlier this year, with all the research materials published online. We also have seven short films created by local artists that tell the story of each of our case-study cities.’

Smart shrinkage solutions – significant new knowledge that has been generated by the 3S RECIPE project – are all about what works: how the underlying forces of urban shrinkage can be reversed in order to convert these cities into sustainable, liveable, and economically resilient urban environments. 3S RECIPE helps shrinking cities to adapt, transform, and thrive in the face of continuously and often dramatically changing circumstances.

Learn more on the 3S RECIPE project website, and watch the artists' films to learn about the successes achieved by the seven cities that formed the focus of the project’s research.

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Published 17 August 2021