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Conceptualizing Urban Shrinkage


  • Annegret Haase
  • Dieter Rink
  • Katrin Grossmann
  • Matthias Bernt

    (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning, Erkner, Flakenstraße 28-31, 15537 Erkner, Germany)

  • Vlad Mykhnenko

    (School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, England)


Since the second half of the 20th century, urban shrinkage has become a common pathway of transformation for many large cities across the globe. Although the appearance of shrinkage is fairly universal—typically manifested in dwindling population, emerging vacant spaces, and the underuse of existing urban infrastructure, ranging from schools and parks to water pipelines—its essence is hidden from view. Phenomena related to shrinkage have been discussed predominantly using terms such as decline, decay, blight, abandonment, disurbanization, urban crisis, and demographic change. Amongst others, these concepts were typically related to specific national contexts, installed in distinct explanatory frameworks, based around diverging normative accounts, ultimately leading to very different policy implications. Yet there is still a lack of conceptualization and integration of shrinkage into the wider theoretical debates in human geography, town and country planning, urban and regional studies, and social sciences at large. The problem here is not only to explain how shrinkage comes about, but also to study shrinkage as a process: simultaneously as a presupposition, a medium, and an outcome of continually changing social relationships. If we wish to understand shrinkage in a specific location, we need to integrate theoretical explanations with historical trajectories, as well as to combine these with a study of the specific impacts caused by shrinkage and to analyse the policy environment in which these processes take place. The authors apply an integrative model which maps the entire process across different contexts and independently of local or national specifics; it covers causes, impacts, responses, and feedback loops, and the interrelations between these aspects. The model does not ‘explain’ shrinkage in every case: instead, it builds a framework into which place-specific and time-specific explanations can be embedded. It is thus a heuristics that enables communication, if not comparison, across different contexts. With the help of this model, the authors hope to find a way in which shrinkage can be studied both in a conceptually rigorous and in an historically specific way. Instead of an invariant ‘process of shrinkage’, they portray a ‘pluralist world of shrinkages’.

Suggested Citation

  • Annegret Haase & Dieter Rink & Katrin Grossmann & Matthias Bernt & Vlad Mykhnenko, 2014. "Conceptualizing Urban Shrinkage," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 46(7), pages 1519-1534, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:envira:v:46:y:2014:i:7:p:1519-1534

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    Cited by:

    1. Andrea Sarzynski & Thomas J. Vicino, 2019. "Shrinking Suburbs: Analyzing the Decline of American Suburban Spaces," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(19), pages 1-19, September.
    2. Mascarenhas, André & Ramos, Tomás B. & Haase, Dagmar & Santos, Rui, 2016. "Participatory selection of ecosystem services for spatial planning: Insights from the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal," Ecosystem Services, Elsevier, vol. 18(C), pages 87-99.
    3. Jurgita Bruneckiene & Jolita Sinkiene, 2015. "The Economic Competitiveness Of Lithuanian-Polish Border Region’S Cities: The Specific Of Urban Shrinkage," Equilibrium. Quarterly Journal of Economics and Economic Policy, Institute of Economic Research, vol. 10(4), pages 133-149, December.
    4. Zhenshan Yang, 2019. "Sustainability of Urban Development with Population Decline in Different Policy Scenarios: A Case Study of Northeast China," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(22), pages 1-17, November.
    5. Florian W. Bartholomae & Chang Woon Nam & Alina Schoenberg, 2017. "Urban Resurgence as a Consumer City: A Case Study for Weimar in Eastern Germany," CESifo Working Paper Series 6610, CESifo.
    6. Yaxin Shi & Yishao Shi, 2020. "Spatio-Temporal Variation Characteristics and Driving Forces of Farmland Shrinkage in Four Metropolises in East Asia," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(3), pages 1-26, January.
    7. Wangchongyu Peng & Weijun Gao & Xin Yuan & Rui Wang & Jinming Jiang, 2019. "Spatiotemporal Differences in Determinants of City Shrinkage Based on Semiparametric Geographically Weighted Regression," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(24), pages 1-17, December.
    8. Wendy Wuyts & Raphael Sedlitzky & Masato Morita & Hiroki Tanikawa, 2020. "Understanding and Managing Vacant Houses in Support of a Material Stock-Type Society—The Case of Kitakyushu, Japan," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(13), pages 1-23, July.


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