Workshop summary Shrink Smart
The Governance of Urban Shrinkage in Europe: Challenges and Prospects
Brussels, 26 March 2012
by Dieter Rink, Annegret Haase, Katrin Grossmann, Alexandra Athanasopoulou
Last update: 4 April 2012
On Monday, 26 March 2012, took place a Policy Informing Workshop of the EU 7 FP project Shrink Smart titled: The Governance of Urban Shrinkage in Europe: Challenges and Prospects. The workshop dealing with governance challenges in shrinking European cities and urban regions gathered some 40 participants including representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Eurocities network as well as urban researchers and planners from different European countries. During the workshop, the Shrink Smart project researchers presented key findings of their project and policy recommendations elaborated on base of these results. The presentations were completed by impulse statements from urban planners, representatives of the Eurocities network and the EC FP scientific coordination.
Urban shrinkage is not a specific European but a global phenomenon. It is, however, especially wide-spread across Europe. Due to recent studies, 40 per cent of large European cities are shrinking, the majority of them in Europe’s eastern parts. There are different trajectories of shrinkage within Europe reaching from long-term shrinking cities to more recently shrinking cities in Eastern Europe as a result of postsocialist transition. Shrinkage is the result of different factors such as demographic change, economic decline or suburbanization. Shrinkage affects large cities as well as smaller and medium-sized cities, too. It has become a normal pathway of European urban development. It creates a big range of problems at the local scale that may range from surplus housing and vacancy rates creating problems for the housing market, high unemployment, the revitalization and management of brownfield sites as well as pressures on local budgets. Therefore, planners and policy-makers have to deal with the impacts of shrinkage and to develop new strategies of development. As the Shrink Smart project included 7 urban regions from all over Europe, it not only created new knowledge and a network of experts on shrinking cities. It also was able to directly support agenda setting by putting the issue into local and regional debate and media such as in Bytom (Poland). During the workshop, planners presented their views and solutions from shrinking cities, too, and argued that despite the tight budgets and conditions that cities are under, it is still possible to provide solutions for most of the problems that occur from shrinkage.
Three cases studies were presented: Bytom (Poland), Genoa (Italy) and Liverpool (UK). Each case represented a different perspective on shrinkage: Bytom representing the typical postsocialist case where shrinkage is not dealt with until the moment that it is clearly visible to the population and that its results are dramatic, but still managed to put into the national agenda. Another case is Genoa, where the main causes for shrinkage are connected to low fertility rates, ageing and suburbanization. This led to a situation were many empty flats are being rented in the black market causing in the city of Genoa a vertical segregation in buildings, with lower flat being rented to poor immigrants while higher flats remained the property of rich Genovese families. Ageing is one of the major problems of Genoa; there is a rapidly increasing demand for cohesion and inclusion support at the neighbourhood level in the inner city and some outer workers’ districts. However, the situation in Genoa has recently improved with the help of national and European funding and projects. Liverpool is a case of long-term shrinkage; however, with constant intervention and long term policies it managed to escape the negative cycle of shrinkage and restore some kind of balance. This case shows that there is a need for consistent and regular policies over a long period of time (in the case of Liverpool: 4 decades) in order to overcome shrinkage. This is however quite difficult because programmes and project are as a rule time-limited and sometimes not compatible with each other.
The way cities have responded to shrinkage differs according to the governance structures and political culture of the city, the nature of the problem, existing multi-level relationships as well as the availability and origin of resources. However, capacity transfer from long-term shrinking cities to newly shrinking cities is important in dealing with those issues on a European level. It is also important to notify that in some cases European influence has been crucial in putting planning conditions that are necessary while dealing with shrinkage. On the European level, there is a need for knowledge on shrinking cities; hence the EU should encourage networks of researchers and further exchange between research and urban practice. Shrinkage is rarely mentioned as a term in EU documents; it is, however, referred to in many documents with respect to related problems such as ageing, economic cohesion, territorial disparities etc. To address shrinkage explicitly in EU’s documents and statements and the enhancement of national governments to support shrinking cities by the EU would enormously help to give shrinking cities a stronger voice. Even though shrinking cities have been using different EU schemes to finance some projects, it is difficult for them to access funding because of co-financing conditions. Since shrinking cities’ budgets are mostly tight, co-financing is very difficult to achieve. European involvement should therefore increase by both political and financial means.
More information on the project and its results can be obtained under www.shrinksmart.eu or from Dieter Rink (email@example.com) or Annegret Haase (firstname.lastname@example.org). A summary of research results of the project is available in two Research briefs which can be downloaded from the project website.