Archive for April, 2007

Shrinking cities – international research alliance

April 15, 2007

Shrinking cities share a similar background of steady population loss for a significant period but often intertwined with periods of slow growth with migration of capital and of human resources, lack of endogenous growth and entrepreneurship, low levels of innovation and intellectual engagement.

The result is a powerless position of urban managers to scrutinise and negotiate settlement conditions with new business willing to relocate to these cities. Thus, the CBD shrinks while the metro area grows e.g. St Louis, Cleveland and Detroit lost half of their population between 1950-1990 while their metro areas expanded.  

In practice this means different strategies for different parts of the city-region, which implies different planning approaches to infrastructure, taxation, land use regulations, transport and access to education and cultural facilities.

For cities where shrinkage is widespread – say Liverpool in the UK or Youngstown in the US, the issue to consider is what is the wealth creation path for these cities, what conditions contribute to the lost of skilled, qualified and creative people and how urban managers are able to preserve city assets until the next wave of growth (if this happens). The rush to seduce mobile capital might only produce an illusory development.

Therefore, the role of government and planning authorities in shrinking cities is critical and different from mainstream planning for growth.  

I am investigating the issue in Australia as part of the Shrinking Cities International Research Network (SCiRN) at University California, Berkeley. Experts met in San Francisco in February. Smart City Radio hosted a radio show with examples from Germany, the UK, France  & Australia.

To listen to the show, go to

The results from this research are being presented in Beijing in June and in Berlin in August and in a cities conference in Australia later in 2007. 

Contributed by Dr. Cristina Martinez-Fernandez, Urban Research Centre, University Western Sydney at