How could embracing and adapting to urban shrinkage benefit the quality of life within, and around cities?
With new emerging trends like rapid digitalisation, increased remote working and housing crises in many European cities, a new appreciation for the periphery has emerged with an outward migration of populations from urban centres. This has been the case all over the continent, one example being the Ranstad region of the Netherlands, with four of the country’s main cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Young families are now leaving these cities not only because they can work remotely but also due to high costs of living and housing in urban areas and a preference to live in the rural environment.
Even though there is no silver bullet or perfect solution to shrinking cities, embracing the phenomenon has a number of evident benefits and opportunities. There is a new work life balance and more flexibility within employment, especially jobs which can be done remotely. This creates new prospects for smart services and interconnectedness between urban and rural areas in terms of mobility and social interactions. Appropriate compactness and density in urban and rural areas can provide optimal connections within cities to minimise distances between housing, work, leisure, education, local shops and services. Urban policies embracing shrinking cities could contribute to regulations such as buying off and demolishing abandoned buildings or converting plots to other purposes such as green spaces. Greening areas can make shrinking cities more attractive and healthier, both for the people and the environment.
Due to depopulation and ageing, there is also a growing demand for workforce in cities and less urbanised areas, e.g. farming and forestry. A growing demand for workforce can create opportunities for migrants or refugees. National urban policies could guide the incoming migrants through dispersal policies to balance the new population out between big cities and smaller areas. It is especially important for an international and national cooperation on such urban strategies as responses to crises and sudden migrations, such as the influx of Ukrainian war refugees in the past weeks.
Overall, a number of opportunities can arise from the process of urban shrinkage, both for cities and non-urban territories. Policy responses to issues such as shrinking cities can help urban areas gain resilience and learn how to respond to suddenly changing circumstances of contemporary times.