Urban Shrinkage As a Travelling Concept

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: 311+312
Oral Presentation
Annegret HAASE , Helmholtz Cntr Environmental Research, Germany
Dieter RINK , Helmholtz Cntr Environmental Research, Germany
Sigrun KABISCH , Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Manuel WOLFF , Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig, Germany
Urban shrinkage as a phenomenon has globalized during the last years: worldwide, including also the global South, cities have faced population decline and its manifold consequences for urban space, fabric and society. In terms of urban theory, shrinkage as a phenomenon or way of urbanization was disregarded for a long time, or shrinkage was looked at through the lens of urban growth as the basic trend of urbanization: as deviance from the norm, a bad or false development or a temporary appearance to be overcome.

Shrinkage as a concept was used first in the German discourse and got onto the national scientific and public agenda with the extreme population losses of East German cities during the 1990s and early 2000s. Shrinkage got accepted as an international term with the growing number of comparative studies and projects from the mid-2000s onwards.

The concept of shrinkage today faces a twofold challenge: On the one hand, it still struggles for recognition as describing a common pathway of global urbanization. On the other hand, research shows an overwhelming diversity of contexts which challenges the essence of what shrinkage was hitherto be defined as. The recent crises in the US and Europe, however, represent a context where expertise and explanations from shrinking cities might be helpful for the understanding of the current transformations and ruptures.

Set against this background, this paper detects the “travel” of the concept of urban shrinkage across different contexts and scholarly communities. It discusses how the debate on shrinkage internationalized and developed in a conceptual way though “traveling”. It also reflects on how cross-national, comparative research contributes to improve the conceptual discourse about shrinkage. As for its empirical examples, the paper draws on several international research projects on shrinking cities from the early 2000s onwards.