From Crisis to Choice: Re-imagining the future in shrinking cities

Hans Schlappa, William, B.V. Neill

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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This report builds on current research and practice concerned with the exploration of causes and consequences of urban shrinkage in Europe. It has been informed by a number of workshops with policy makers, politicians and regeneration professionals from across Europe to identify possible responses to challenges shrinking cities face.
We draw on a number of case studies to illustrate how cities currently attempt to counteract the negative consequences of shrinking. While the focus is on local strategy development, the report emphasises that regional policies and development frameworks are of critical importance to shrinking cities. However, many such policies appear to be pursuing interests which do not reflect the challenges and opportunities shrinking cities encounter, for instance the Europe 2020 strategy framework which emphasises growth and economic competitiveness. A similar situation is found in many national and regional funding programmes supporting urban development and also national tax systems which reward growth – and punish shrinkage. This context, as the consultations during the capitalisation process brought out, is one of the causes of the ‘spiral of decline’ shrinking cities are caught up in. The efforts undertaken on the municipal level to stabilise the shrinking processes will only be successful if a rethink takes place on all political, administrative and societal levels. That said, our report argues strongly for a locally driven re-envisioning process, where the challenges of shrinkage urge a fundamental rethinking of spatial planning away from simplistic notions of linear growth to more balanced conceptions of sustainable urban development for the 21st century.
The report calls for a ‘new realism’ with regard to urban regeneration in areas affected by socio-economic decline, and for a ‘paradigm shift’ with regard to approaches towards regenerating cities affected by shrinkage. It advances a model of strategy development which recognises that decision-makers need to move out of a constrained situation with very limited choice and into a mindset which fosters an emergent strategy process which engages the local population and creates realistic development options. Our strategy development model brings together the conception of Joseph Schumpeter that economic development is an inherently restless, destructive and evolutionary process, with the work on the strategy process by Mintzberg. We argue that cities must learn to perceive of sustainable urban development as an ongoing cyclical process of change, rather than pretend that socio-economic development is a linear and predictable progression from the status quo to a better future.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationSaint-Denis, France
PublisherURBACT Secretariat, Paris
Number of pages52
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


  • shrinking cities
  • urban regeneration
  • strategy
  • service innovation
  • socio-economic development
  • governance


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