SCHRINKING CITIES

Philipp Oswalt 1

An artist and an architect???s view on shrinking cities

???I am an architect with a strong focus on research, especiallyin urban themes. In the project of Shrinking Cities we included notonly architects and planners, but also artists, geographers, andsociologists. It was an interdisciplinary project thus. We thinkthat the when considering shrinking cities, not only the expertiseof architects and planners is interesting but it is also importantto consider the issue from another angle. An artist???s view of theissue will be completely different than that of an urban plannerfor example. In the second phase of the project we tried to come upwith action plans while keeping in mind what the future might bringfor shrinking cities. By bringing together people from very diverseprofessional backgrounds we came up with very interesting views andaction plans, which would have been less likely without thisgathering of different people from different disciplines.???

Shifting cities instead of shrinking cities

Some (historical) analysis on how shrinkage emerged and how itis developing was done for the Shrinking Cities project. It wasfound that this phenomena is mainly a problem in old industrialcities. This is so in Europe, Northern America and Japan. Since1990 the Eastern European countries of the socialist spheres havealso experienced a growing number of shrinking cities (Poland andRussia for example). ???What we have to realize is that shrinkage inthese countries is actually marginal, the number of shrinkingcities is not enormous and population is not lost as shrinkage isparallel to growth. The main reason for people leaving a city andthus for shrinking cities is because people leave to find work. Sowhat happens is a redistribution of economic activity. What we haveexperienced in almost every researched country is that people aremoving to the larger agglomerations, the large cities. So both on anational as on a regional level we are seeing a shift ofpopulation. You could say shifting cities instead of shrinkingcities.???

We should not always strive for growth but rather for a goodquality of life

Politicians and economists have tried to counteract thephenomena of shrinking cities for a long time now but up to datethis has rarely resulted in a turnaround. ???I think that we shouldrespect people???s wishes to move elsewhere. To create policy inorder to ???combat??? this problem will not work as there is no properpolicy that will stop people from moving from one place to another.Shrinkage can also be a temporary phenomena. After some yearscities will grow again or the shrinkage will stabilize. So it???smore of a matter of transformation for a time period. I think thatthe focus should not be on finding appropriate policy or solutionsfor shrinking cities but rather to see to it that the quality oflife for the people in the cities remains good or becomes better.In other words we need a new understanding of shrinking or shiftingcities. This will make the whole process of migration shifts moreeffective.???

Quality of life does not depend on population density

Changing populations mean for example that people from a certainage category are moving, or immigrants from a certain culturalbackground are grouping together in a city or neighborhood, theremight be a brain drain where people with higher education move tobig cities. ???Architects or urban planners cannot define wherepeople live but they can give a contribution to the quality oflife. There is no proper size for the perfect city. In Scandinaviafor example the quality of life is very good whilst there is a verylow population density. It just goes to show that quality of lifedoes not depend on population density.??? In other words, growingcities do not necessarily mean healthier cities.

Citizen participation in shrinking (and growing) cities

???The question of citizen participation is an important one inthe matter of shrinking (and growing) cities. Of course we shouldbear in mind that we are living in a time of economic crisis, atime when there is less private investment in cities. Whatgovernments can offer to citizens is limited at the moment. Justlytherefore it is so important to include citizens, for example byasking social institutions, schools or neighborhood centers howthey would like to contribute to their city. What they would liketo see in their city. This does not necessarily have to cost moneyand if indeed money is invested in the city then at least it???s inan area that is of importance to the citizens and not a rough guessby an urban planner or architect. Sometimes I think the work of anarchitect is overvalued. In urban planning the focus has been onthe entrepreneurial city since the seventies, where a city waslargely dependent on private investment. But this model of theentrepreneurial city does not work for shrinking cities.???

So architecture is not the answer to shrinking cities?

The meaning of architecture is changing in this day and age. Inmany cities architecture does not mean creating a new structure butrather dealing with existent structures. Of course there are somestriking examples, like in Bilbao, where the city was rapidlyshrinking having lost much of its industrial jobs and growingimmensely once the Guggenheim Museum was built. ???The image of thecity changed, but this is only one example. Generally I would saythat creating new structures in a city does not automatically seeto population growth. Architecture in and out of itself won???tsalvage cities from shrinking. However, like I said earlier,creating a good quality of life in each city, does attract people.So if cities use architecture to update existent structure and makeit more attractive then I do think that it could be a remedy forshrinking cities.???

Elizabeth Winkel, EUKN

Un sujet peu discut?? en Belgique eu ??gard ?? la d??mographie galopante de ces dix derni??res ann??es. Toutefois, ce m??canisme de r??tr??cissement doit nous faire r??fl??chir du fait que , quoi qu’il arrive, cela arrivera ??galement en Belgique dans les 30 ?? 50 prochaines ann??es.
Notons l’amalgame qui est fait entre densit?? et animation de la ville et qui me d??range. toutefois, le sujet et les liens qui en d??coulent sur le site sont vraiment int??ressant pour ceux qui r??fl??chissent aux questions de la r??silience urbaine.

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