Project #Governance, Publication §5: Governing Urban Shrinkage

Governing Urban Shrinkage, Teodor Kalpakchiev,

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The realm of shrinking cities is relatively new (since the 2000s) and requires further investigation. It necessitates a new paradigm not fully motivated by growth that optimizes smartly the built environment, transportation and services by downsizing them and improves overall citizens welfare. This intervention takes place in network(s) of horizontal cooperation that compete for scarce funding within a multi-level horizontal governance scheme (EU-state-local), thus adding to complexity. On the local level, administration transforms to a more inclusive, networked and entrepreneurial one, while making full use of private actors, NGOs and grassroots movements.

What is shrinkage?

Shrinkage of cities was outlined in the last decade an is associated with two tendencies:

  1. economic decline as a result of post-industrial transformation, suburbanization and decline of urban centers, etc.
  2. loss of demographic dividend (decreasing fertility rates and wars can be the problem), which have far reaching implications for the budget of city administration, hence its ability to transform. Awareness of the problematic remains key to adopting strategies (typologized traditionally as expansive, maintenance, planning for decline) and adaptation to local endowments (e.g. tourism, high-tech, substitution, ecology) is necessary as each case is different1.

Inhabitants of shrinking cities reveal preferences for a sense of safety, social cooperation and social fabric (mutual aid and trust) as factors that might retain them2. In cases where economic downturn has persisted besides continuous support for involvement in policy-making, economic revival (work places) and accessibility were preferred due to feelings for insecurity, while social ties were bound to preference for creating business incubators and settling young people3.

Governaning Shrinkage

Acknowledging „shrinkage” has continuously been avoided as it concedes governance ineffectiveness4, turning thus collaboration with the citizenry an important element for realizing the uniqueness of each territorial problematic. Shrinkage, when acknowledged, provides an opportunity for remaining citizens to improve their lifestyles, including through homeownership. It can provide a relief from the pressure for growth that does not work equally for all citizens (esp. the elderly), as well as solutions to previously neglected problems such as marrying land use and transport, whose optimization can reduce CO2 emissions5. Transforming brownfields into green infrastructure also requires a good interaction between different state governance levels, as well as additional symbiosis with private operators within the city, who can co-finance a green infrastructure fund6.

Anthropocentric approaches include a focus on economic, locational and education factors (e.g. jobs, ambience, qualifications) and can instead attempt to improve the attractiveness of the inner city core through provision of high quality social infrastructure (e.g. schools with attractive curricula and social housing), while trying not to undermine housing markets7. The uniqueness of solutions is further supported by the Chinese experience, which showed that progrowth policies lead to changes in the distribution of economic activities, demography and migration8.

In Japan, though, top-down governance has been successfully complemented with the inclusion of grassroots movements through small-scale interventions that enrich policy making. There the mayor, besides employing the 3Rs (partially the foundational principles of EU’s circular economy strategy) has established also an advisory board that can help overcome the contingent lack of redistributive social impact and reproduction of racial and social equalities that traditional growth and green infrastructure projects

generate9. Increasingly, top-down hierarchy is substituted with integrative networked governance initiated by a facilitative bureaucracy, whereby the policy is a result of interplay between actors (command and control gives place to negotiation) without the constraint of ideology10. Citizens also do have the best knowledge for their locality, but for a wide-reaching participation of the populace, a redefinition of civic responsibility is key11. The business, esp. if with traditions can also play strong role in establishing a forum for solutions (e.g. a city marketing strategy that brings together stakeholders, business and policy-makers), as well as creating horizontal, informal, narrow and non-binding strategies, or to help locals engage in volunteerism12.

Strategies for Shrinkage

Strategies for shrinkage should question the appropriateness of existing tools, substitute land use regulation and spatial developments with inducing change and development, dealing with the pressing issues of an unpredictable future, integrating landscape architecture and urban design. Oftentimes a strategy foresees the self-sustenance of a region, multiple land uses, sustainable value creation and equal distribution of comfort zones (shopping, doctors, schools), while supporting shared governance between NGOs and local government13. Responses to shrinkage vary in typology and effectiveness, but can be described as trivializing, accepting, countering and utilizing strategies (also reaction responses turn shrinkage into growth; adaptation responses optimize the consequences of shrinkage). Some of the solutions for the latter two include adapting houses (Gesundschrumpfen) so that the elderly populace stays, slowing down cities – inspired by Scandinavia – in an attempt to replicate their low population density, quality of life, sustainability and diversity of local communities, demolishing housing blocks to lay out green spaces for urban farming and create pocket parks (although oftentimes blocked by legal constraints)14. Similarly, after the bank and property crisis, Cleveland went on to create 28 acres of green city growers cooperative for lettuce and herbs (procured by local hospitals) that employs 25 low-income residents after purchasing (with the help of financial instruments used by the Vacant and Abandoned Properties Council – partnership of government institutions, community development industry actors and federal reserve bank) 700 acres of vacant land, numerous properties and issuing a book with land strategies15.

Actor mapping

Albeit many cities have followed austerity as contrary to growth strategies, regrowth based on green economy, revitalizing the city-center housing renewal, selling flats in suburban areas can counter the rising cost of increased vacancies. An important stakeholder when it comes to housing could be landlords, who albeit concerned with financial optimization could act as brokers to bring private investment (as cases in Japan have show as good practice)16. Within a shrinking city context planners can play an instrumental role in exploring alternative strategies that are meant to produce an adaptive capacity and ability to self-organize (anticipatory competence, utilized through e.g. wide-ranging written strategy), while its decision-makers need to be able to synthesize in lieu of systems thinking (strategic competence, incl. involvement of local experts, business to improve attractiveness of solutions and provide co-funding). Interpersonal competence (charismatic leader and inclusive bureaucracy) should be complemented by a prioritization of citizen welfare (e.g. over economic growth)17.

Smart Decline

Despite the predominance of smart and ecological competitiveness oriented strategies, many cities should rather employ a strategy for “smart” decline, e.g. having fewer people, fewer buildings, fewer land uses. This incorporates actions such as the preservation of declining areas as vacant, as they can be greened for parkland and recreation, paying the residents to leave depopulating neighborhoods and a social justice component with a focus on the disadvantaged18. Smart shrinking can entail both land and physical capital related strategies. Urban shrapnel – land in continuous physical decay, that deters future developmental projects as well as encourage vacancy in parcels lying tangent to non-productive lots, can be transformed into gardens, yard extensions for neighbouring properties, outdoor art installations, pocket parks, stormwater retention areas, and temporary parking lots with the help of incentives such as charging monetary penalties for unkempt lots and realigning the tax system to make up for lost property taxes; provide incentive for reuse19. Vacant spaces can be utilized for accessible university dorms, evergreen cooperatives and innovative capitalization of local assets (e.g. biofuels, renewables, leafy green tea, food)20.

“Rightsizing” services, utilities and infrastructure overcomes the limitations of pro-growth-oriented paradigms and includes actions such as land banking, revitalization, demolition, consolidation, greening21 of spaces. Alternative actions include tearing down abandoned homes and the conversion of land into an integrated public space system, which can result in externalities such as gentrification22. It can also result in other externalities such as segregation of disadvantaged people necessitating demolition (of surplus housing), sectorial focus and work towards social cohesion23.

As can be learnt from the Chinese planned repopulation focus24 and Russian example, overt focus on physical capital, e.g. renovation, optimization of existing buildings instead of demolition, etc. to improve attractiveness without taking note of place-specific constraints can be counterproductive25. Yet we learn from these cases that universities and working places have possibly one of the most definitive attractive force for newcomers26.

Managed shrinkage aims at stabilization of the housing market, efficiency of infrastructures and thus overcoming “perforation”27 oftentimes marked by gentrification synonymous with displacement of poor and minority groups. To improve affordability, it can employ policies such as employed inclusionary zoning, linkage programs, impact fees, and other programs to produce and preserve affordable housing; tax abatements or circuit breaker programs to mitigate the tax hikes. Specifically, with regards to transportation, as redeveloping areas have lower transportation costs than declining (as percentage of income) and as declining near developing have lower than redeveloping areas near declining ones, bike lanes are can be preferred instrument for improving affordability28.

Other authors emphasize the peripheral dual city, where pockets of revitalization are surrounded by expanses of disinvestment and decline. In such cases redefining downtown areas and creating a buffer, expanding the role and influence of institutions, changing functional uses, overcoming the concentration of affordable housing outside revitalized areas can mark the shift from strategies that emphasize shrinking smart and rightsizing, to redistributive policies that focus on empowering the poor and increasing community control29. In order to overcome the divide between urban dwelling and the environment, a post- productivist utilization of forests, long-term development of local nature tourism businesses and reconciliation of conflicts in nature conservation can be employed to improve quality of life30.

Multi-Level Governance

EU shrinking cities’ participation in the established multi-level governance entails the cost of preparing bids, the capacity to coordinate, as well as opening Brussels offices and establishing credibility. To improve the feedback mechanism oftentimes gathering data remains a vital issue31. Cities engage in international networks, often supported by EU, to gather and sustain expertise (e.g. on sustainability), as well as in collective representation (Eurocities, Eurotowns, Council of European Municipalities and regions, Polis, Reves) to lobby EU. Thus bureaucratic entrepreneurship and grant coalitions are oftentimes better rewarded than participation in vertical schemes, which altogether have as externality the freeriding (e.g. non-sharing of gathered knowledge)32. City branding either as a smart or ecologically modern dwelling (climate, demographics, renewable energy dominate spatial planning agendas) has become a must, as environmental quality and sustainability are increasing determinants for quality of life. In the dominant form of urbanization – polycentric regions, administrative cooperation is also scaled down, as this allows further for more focused thematic and sectoral collaboration33.

Towards the right policy instruments

Although it is difficult to select the right strategy, when it comes to creating social capital, attracting youth through a blend of available creative and unoccupied spaces, branches of universities and facilitating for adjusting the dynamics of cities. Thus the demolition, adaptation or creation of polycentric meeting spaces could be vital element for the social fabric. Furthermore, dynamic cities would be dependent on collaborative governance between the public administration and NGOs, as well as for example bike lanes and sports’ facilities. Ultimately, as solutions are unique, they could involve a mix of focus on happiness and welfare, peri-urban revitalization, science-based and liquid policy-making, combating property price hikes, re-integrating the physical and environmental realm, Vertical farming, traffic optimization, adjusting towards a circular economy (repair society, service economy, internet of things) as an attractive force for educated youth, etc.


1 Karina Pallagst (2017) Karina Pallagst — Substitute industries – panacea or false hope for shrinking cities?, disP – The Planning Review, 53:2, 82-83, DOI: 10.1080/02513625.2017.1341139

2 Barreira et al., Exploring residential satisfaction in shrinking cities: a decision-tree approach

3 Maria Helena Guimarães, Luis Catela Nunes, Ana Paula Barreira & Thomas Panagopoulos (2016) Residents’ preferred policy actions for shrinking cities, Policy Studies, 37:3, 254-273, DOI: 10.1080/01442872.2016.1146245

4 Barreira et al. Ibid.

5 Sílvia Sousa & Paulo Pinho (2015) Planning for Shrinkage: Paradox or

Paradigm, European Planning Studies, 23:1, 12-32, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2013.820082

6 Shilling and Logan, Greening the Rust Belt: A Green Infrastructure Model for Right Sizing America’s Shrinking Cities

7 Nelle, Tackling human capital loss in shrinking cities: urban development and secondary school improvement in Eastern Germany

8 Zhenshan Yang & Michael Dunford (2018) City shrinkage in China: scalar processes of urban and hukou population losses, Regional Studies, 52:8, 1111-1121, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2017.1335865

9 Fernando Ortiz-Moya (2018): Green growth strategies in a shrinking city: Tackling urban revitalization through environmental justice in Kitakyushu City, Japan, Journal of Urban Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/07352166.2018.1448225

10 Nicholas C. Zingale, Aritree Samanta & Esther J. West (2017) Loose Governance in Action: Tinkering Around in a Shrinking City, Administrative Theory & Praxis, 39:1, 32-57, DOI: 10.1080/10841806.2016.1273728

11 Gert-Jan Hospers (2014) Policy Responses to Urban Shrinkage: From Growth Thinking to Civic Engagement, European Planning Studies, 22:7, 1507-1523, DOI:10.1080/09654313.2013.793655

12 Sabine Weck & Sabine Beißwenger (2014) Coping with Peripheralization: Governance Response in Two German Small Cities, European Planning Studies, 22:10, 2156-2171, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2013.819839

13 Annet Kempenaar, Marjo van Lierop, Judith Westerink, Arnold van der Valk & Adri van den Brink (2016) Change of Thought: Findings on Planning for Shrinkage from a Regional Design Competition, Planning Practice & Research, 31:1, 23-40, DOI: 10.1080/02697459.2015.1088242

14 Gert-Jan Hospers (2014) Policy Responses to Urban Shrinkage: From

Growth Thinking to Civic Engagement, European Planning Studies, 22:7, 1507-1523, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2013.793655

15 Alessandro Coppola (2018): Projects of becoming in a right-sizing shrinking City, Urban Geography, DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2017.1421391

16 Vincent Béal, Sylvie Fol, Yoan Miot & Max Rousseau (2017): Varieties of rightsizing strategies: comparing degrowth coalitions in French shrinking cities, Urban Geography, DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2017.1332927

17 Leslie Mabon & Wan-Yu Shih (2018) Management of sustainability transitions through planning in shrinking resource city contexts: an evaluation of Yubari City, Japan, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 20:4, 482- 498, DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2018.1443004

18 Justin B. Hollander & Jeremy Németh (2011) The bounds of smart decline: a foundational theory for planning shrinking cities, Housing Policy Debate, 21:3, 349-367, DOI:10.1080/10511482.2011.585164

19 Galen Newman & Boah Kim (2017) Urban shrapnel: spatial distribution of nonproductive space, Landscape Research, 42:7, 699-715, DOI: 10.1080/01426397.2017.1363877

20 Nicholas C. Zingale, Aritree Samanta & Esther J. West (2017) Loose Governance in Action: Tinkering Around in a Shrinking City, Administrative Theory & Praxis, 39:1, 32-57, DOI: 10.1080/10841806.2016.1273728

21  Maxwell Hartt, Shifting perceptions in shrinking cities: the influence of governance, time and geography on local (In)action,

22 Jerremy Nemeth, Justin Hollander, Right-sizing shrinking cities: a landscape and design strategy for abandoned properties,

23 Caterina Cortese, Annegret Haase, Katrin Grossmann & Iva Ticha (2014) Governing Social Cohesion in Shrinking Cities: The Cases of Ostrava, Genoa and Leipzig, European Planning Studies, 22:10, 2050-2066, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2013.817540

24 See Wade Shepard – Ghost Cities of China; Zed Books London (2015)

25 Elena Batunova & Maria Gunko (2018) Urban shrinkage: an unspoken challenge of spatial planning in Russian small and medium-sized cities, European Planning Studies, 26:8, 1580-1597, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2018.1484891 26 Also Tackling urban revitalization through environmental justice in Kitakyushu City, Japan, Journal of

Urban Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/07352166.2018.1448225

27 Thorsten Wiechmann & Marco Bontje (2015) Responding to Tough Times: Policy and Planning Strategies in Shrinking Cities, European Planning Studies, 23:1, 1-11, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2013.820077

28 Do Shrinking Cities Allow Redevelopment Without Displacement? An Analysis of Affordability Based on Housing and Transportation Costs for Redeveloping, Declining, and Stable Neighborhoods; J. Rosie Tighea and Joanna P. Ganning; Housing Policy Debate, 2016; VOL . 26, NOS . 4–5, 785–800;

29 Robert Mark Silverman (2018): Rethinking shrinking cities: Peripheral dual cities have arrived, Journal of Urban Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/07352166.2018.1448226

30 Juha Kotilainen, Ilkka Eisto & Eero Vatanen (2015) Uncovering Mechanisms for Resilience: Strategies to Counter Shrinkage in a Peripheral City in Finland, European Planning Studies, 23:1, 53-68, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2013.820086

31 Nuno F. da Cruz, Philipp Rode & Michael McQuarrie (2018): New urban governance: A review of current themes and future priorities, Journal of Urban Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/07352166.2018.1499416

32 Jon Pierre (2017): Multilevel governance as a strategy to build capacity in cities: Evidence from Sweden, Journal of Urban Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/07352166.2017.1310532

33 Simon Goess, Martin de Jong & Evert Meijers (2016) City branding in polycentric urban regions: identification, profiling and transformation in the Randstad and Rhine-Ruhr, European Planning Studies, 24:11, 2036-2056, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2016.1228832


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