Urban shrinkage as an emerging concern for European policymaking

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1 481371EUR / European Urban and Regional StudiesHaase et al Euro-commentary European Urban and Regional Studies Urban shrinkage as an emerging concern for European policymaking European Urban and Regional Studies 2016, Vol. 23(1) The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalspermissions.nav DOI: / eur.sagepub.com Annegret Haase Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ, Germany Alexandra Athanasopoulou Leipzig University, Germany Dieter Rink Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ, Germany Abstract Across Europe, urban shrinkage has become an important phenomenon. According to recent studies, almost 42 % of all large European cities are currently shrinking, the largest number of them being situated in Eastern Europe. Across Europe, shrinkage affects all types of regions; in a way, Europe has become a shrinking continent. Shrinkage is not only a problem of larger cities, but has, in fact, become one of several pathways for European urban and rural development. Given the context that the European Commission s ambition is to create prosperous, attractive and sustainable cities, they are expected to create equilibrium between population and employment opportunities, provide clean, safe, sustainable environments and avoid social exclusion. Set against this background, the commentary discusses the challenge that urban shrinkage brings about for European policymaking. It addresses especially issues of urban governance and planning. It draws on recent research on shrinking cities across the European territory. It argues that, on the European level, knowledge about shrinking cities is required; hence, the European Commission should encourage networks of researchers and support mutual exchange between research and urban practice. It argues, too, that there is a great deal of expertise available in some European cities about how to cope with shrinkage and there are other places, throughout Europe, that are in urgent need of this expertise. It finally advocates a stronger voice for the vision of the sustainable, shrinking or shrunk city as a priority of current and future urban policy of the EU. Keywords European cities, European policymaking, urban governance, urban shrinkage Why does urban shrinkage represent a challenge for European policy concerns up to and beyond 2020? Across Europe, urban shrinkage has become an important phenomenon. Only one-third of Europe s cities have enjoyed continuous growth since the Second World War. Many others have seen phases of decline; according to recent studies, almost 42 % of all large European cities (population 200,000 and above) are currently shrinking (Turok and Mykhnenko, 2007). In Central and Eastern Europe, shrinking cities are now the overwhelming majority; Corresponding author: Annegret Haase, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ, Permoserstr. 15, Leipzig, Germany.

2 104 European Urban and Regional Studies 23(1) three out of four cities report decreases in population. Shrinkage occurs as the result of the interplay of various macro-processes, but its main cause is demographic change. Across Europe, shrinkage affects all types of regions, ranging from large cities to rural areas (Built Environment 38.2, 2012; IJURR Symposium, 2012). Many problems shrinking cities that face are, in fact, not exclusively found in those cities, be it the closure of industrial or commercial sites, segregation and poverty, physical decay or financial constraints. However, shrinking cities are much more vulnerable to such problems, as they are hit by population decline, brain drain, reinforced ageing, lack of investment and financial capacities. Consequently, they have difficulty in coping with problems because of a lack of resources (e.g. Halle in eastern Germany) or capacities (e.g. Donetsk in eastern Ukraine), or both (e.g. Bytom in Upper Silesia). The majority of these cities depend on external spending. Although there is no one-sizefits-all blueprint of a shrinking city, there are typical consequences or impacts of shrinkage that can be found: disinvestment and decay, brownfield sites, under-used or dysfunctional infrastructures, tight budgets, decayed as well as vacant excess housing, and devaluation of housing estates. Shrinking cities thus represent a serious challenge for European progrowth and cohesion policy. In this article we argue for not subsuming the challenge that shrinkage sets for cities under the terms demographic change, regional inequalities or economic cohesion, the most common descriptors of their problems in documents and strategy statements issued by the European Union. The European Commission s ambition is to create prosperous, attractive and sustainable cities, as formulated in the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities from Cities are expected to create equilibrium between population and employment opportunities, provide clean, safe, sustainable environments, and avoid social exclusion. Therefore, strategies must be coherent and holistic: they need to deal comprehensively with all the economic, social, and environmental issues that arise from shrinkage, rather than focusing exclusively on economic growth or on the consequences of suburbanization. European institutions have, for many years, put forward strong arguments against urban sprawl and in favour of more compact cities. All of these arguments apply to cases of urban shrinkage and urban expansion, which is why they should be carefully considered, regardless of the circumstances. Recently, Europe 2020 was introduced as the strategy and framework for European core policy goals during this decade (EC, 2010). It builds on the principles of smart, sustainable and inclusive development that will foster cohesion among European regions, enabling European societies to adapt to challenges such as ageing, economic competition, climate change and resource scarcity. It also forms the framework for a consolidation of the European urban agenda. Cities have come to play an important role at the European level; their interests are represented at the institutional level by the Committee of the Regions, but also by several networks that have been created on the European level. Since the mid 1990s, DG Regio has introduced several programmes targeting urban areas that have since been mainstreamed in the Commission s overall policies (Atkinson, 2001: 394). There are, however, some areas in which European policies do not respond to the real challenges that cities are facing. Urban shrinkage is one of them. What new demands does shrinkage bring for policymaking and governance across Europe? Governance responses to urban shrinkage formed the focus of the recently completed EU 7 FP project Shrink Smart ( , grant agreement no , The project compared seven shrinking urban regions and cities across Europe, including long-term shrinking cities in Western and Southern Europe, such as Liverpool and Genoa, as well as post-socialist cities that have been hit by shrinkage, mostly during the last two decades, such as Bytom, Sosnowiec, Donetsk, Makiivka, Halle, Leipzig, Ostrava and Timisoara. A variety of governance responses towards shrinkage were identified. These can be structured along two axes. The first axis denotes the point of view of the response; it ranges from accepting shrinkage to

3 Haase et al. 105 embracing growth-oriented responses. The second axis denotes a spatial dimension, varying between focusing investment on areas of decline (often inner urban areas and peripheral areas dominated by social housing) and focusing it on areas with the best growth potential (mostly suburban and urban fringe areas). Elements of all choices were identified, but there were distinct differences, particularly between Western European cities with a longer history of shrinkage and post-socialist cities, for which shrinkage is a relatively new phenomenon. In each case, the governance responses to shrinkage varied, both in terms of the identity and nature of the institutions involved, as well as in terms of the relationships and interactions between them. The differences are the result of many factors, including: Existing governance systems, cultures and political traditions. Cities have their own traditions and cultures, which frequently lead to the hegemony of certain narratives about the nature of urban problems, their causes and their possible solutions. These narratives determine both the chances of a particular issue entering the political arena and the types of policies formed. The problems being addressed. The precise nature of local problems, which can differ considerably among local contexts, is another key determinant of policy responses. The relationships between different tiers or levels of governance. The issue of local government resources is crucial and also difficult to generalize. The degree of fiscal autonomy varies significantly from one city to another, and it is not immediately connected with the organization of the state, or with the balance of power between different territorial levels. In all cases, the multilevel nature of governance arrangements was crucial for understanding responses to shrinkage. The availability and origin of resources. Most shrinking cities have to fight against tight budgets and face an imbalance between tax revenues and expenses. Thus they often depend on external resources, which may be national, European or other funding (Bernt et al., 2012; Couch et al., 2012). Even though the scope for transferring strategies between countries and cities is limited by an array of cultural, institutional and socio-economic factors, there are, nevertheless, opportunities to learn from the experiences of others and to adapt and modify strategies and policy tools to suit local situations. One of the key differences we identified in our research was between those cities that have extensive experience of shrinkage and cities whose population decline has come as a relatively recent and unpleasant shock. Cities with only recent experience of shrinkage can probably learn from more experienced cities (e.g. Liverpool, Genoa or Leipzig in our research sample), because these have already developed institutional capacities and know a great deal about the strategies and tools required to respond to the causes and consequences of shrinkage. What is needed is the creation of learning structures within these recently shrinking cities that can adapt the experience of others to their own cultural, institutional and economic environments. However, such learning structures would also benefit from considering the criticisms of established practices that emerged once those practices had been implemented. A second need is certainly a view on shrinking cities that sees shrinkage in a holistic way but also considers local specificities and goes beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. Although shrinkage has often proved to be a time-limited process and cities can fall into shrinkage and get out of it again, as examples such as Leipzig, Genoa or Liverpool show, pro-growth policy is, not the solution for today s shrinking cities. Instead, they may serve as labs for developing policies to create resource-efficient, sustainable and liveable communities in light of demographic ageing and limited resources at a global scale, and especially with respect to Europe. Pure growth ideas could be part of future approaches where they fit to the strategy as a whole, but should not be treated as the solution or the recipe against shrinkage. A third lesson is that a better alignment of different tiers of policymaking, from the local upwards, is needed. Last but not least, shrinking cities need financial support; in most cases, they cannot cope with their problems with their own funds only.

4 106 European Urban and Regional Studies 23(1) In Eastern and Central Europe, policies have relied on market-driven forces to balance urban development. Shrink Smart has shown that relying on the market alone will fail; authorities must intervene. The analysis of Liverpool and Leipzig, two longterm shrinking cities, revealed that it was possible to bring about regrowth only by long-term and substantial public support (Rink et al., 2012). How can European institutions policies better respond to shrinkage and how could they give shrinking cities a stronger voice? Because of the principles of subsidiarity, it is, of course, not easy for European institutions to deal with urban development issues, particularly since they lack any kind of spatial planning competencies. Urban development and planning remain in the hands of national governments; it is, therefore, difficult for the European institutions to directly intervene. However, a more coordinated approach between all levels of governance including the European institutions can strongly benefit shrinking cities. It is the long-term combination of policies at all levels that will improve the situation for shrinking cities. Combined and thus more focused policymaking could help shrinking cities get onto the agenda of countries where there is not yet a national urban policy. On the European level, knowledge about shrinking cities is required. The term shrinkage is rarely mentioned in official European documents, but many documents refer to issues linked to it, including ageing, economic cohesion and territorial disparities (Haase, 2012). Shrinking cities would have a stronger voice if shrinkage were addressed explicitly in the EU s documents and statements and if national governments were encouraged to address this issue. Even though shrinking cities have been using various EU schemes to finance projects, it is difficult for them to access funding, because of co-financing requirements. Because shrinking cities budgets are very tight, co-financing is very difficult to achieve. Considering these conditions, it will become increasingly less likely for cities to participate in European projects. The outcome is that cities in greater need of resources are not capable of receiving them (Swyngedouw et al., 2002: 570). Other approaches such as unconditional funding depending on several criteria that cities have to fulfil might represent a solution here. Moreover, projects and grants which focus on the problems of shrinking cities, and do not force them to adapt an application to the specific details of e.g. EU FP call guidelines, would potentially respond better to their real needs. We are at the beginning of a new period of European cohesion policy; this should be viewed as an opportunity to provide even greater access to structural funds to cities that need them. There are contradictions between the discourse of the European Commission and reality. Promoting competition and growth is one the EU s main goals and it is extensively reflected by its policies and discourses. This growth paradigm inevitably means that cities or urban regions have to compete with each other, which, in turn, leads to a situation in which even more disparities between cities are created (Atkinson, 2001: 393). Shrinking cities will find it very difficult to compete in the current European context. When drafting Cities of Tomorrow, the Commission consulted a group of urban experts about various aspects of urban development. This document reflects the diversity of problems faced by cities within Europe (see European Commission, Directorate General for Regional Policy, 2011). As emphasized above, the growth paradigm of European institutions, and, more generally, of national authorities, means that shrinkage will be treated as a problem rather than as an opportunity. In many cases, shrinkage can be the starting point for a more ecologically friendly and compact city, given the appropriate conditions, such as continuous (not only but also financial) support from all levels of government (regional administrations, national governments, European institutions). As already mentioned above, shrinking cities are not just a problem; since shrinkage will continue to affect urban regions across Europe, they could be treated as labs or forerunners for developing novel approaches to ageing and sustainable resource use.

5 Haase et al. 107 This would very accurately reflect the general objective of EU perspectives on urban development: the creation of prosperous, liveable, diverse and resource-saving cities (Couch et al., 2012: 269). On the basis of our findings, we propose to prioritize the objective of the sustainable, shrinking or shrunk city as an additional focus for EU policymaking and for EU involvement. References Atkinson R (2001) The emerging urban agenda and the European spatial development perspective: towards an EU urban policy. European Planning Studies 9(3): Bernt M, Cocks M, Couch C, et al. (2012) Policy response, governance and future directions. Shrink Smart Research Brief no. 2, March. Leipzig: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ. Available at: Built Environment 38.2 (2012) Understanding Shrinkage in European Regions, 304 pp. Couch C, Cocks M, Bernt M, et al. (2012) Shrinking cities in Europe. Town and Country Planning June: European Commission (EC) (2010) Europe 2020: A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. COM(2010) 2020, 3 March. Brussels. European Commission Directorate General for Regional Policy (2011) Cities of Tomorrow-Challenges, visions, way forward. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Haase A (2012) Shrinkage an issue for European involvement. In: The policy informing workshop The governance of shrinkage in Europe: Challenges and prospects, University Foundation, Brussels, Belgium, 26 March. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (2012) Symposium on shrinking cities, March, 36(2): Rink D, Haase A, Grossmann K, et al. (2012) From longterm shrinkage to re-growth? A comparative study of urban development trajectories of Liverpool and Leipzig. Built Environment 38(2): Swyngedouw E, Moulaert F and Rodriguez A (2002) Neoliberal urbanization in Europe: Large-scale urban development projects and the new urban policy. Antipode 34(3): Turok I and Mykhnenko V (2007) The trajectories of European cities, Cities 24:

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