Policy Responses to Urban Shrinkage: From Growth Thinking to Civic Engagement

Gerrit J. Hospers

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137 Citations (Scopus)


More and more European cities are confronted with population decline in a structural sense. This development of “urban shrinkage” has different causes, but similar effects: the city's hardware, software and mindware deteriorate. In this paper, we explore and assess policy strategies to respond to urban shrinkage in a European context. Four strategies are identified: (1) trivializing shrinkage, (2) countering shrinkage, (3) accepting shrinkage and (4) utilizing shrinkage. We suggest that accepting shrinkage by improving the quality of life for the city's existing residents is the most suitable and sustainable strategy. Dealing with shrinkage is a complex urban governance process that asks for a mental transformation from growth to shrinkage as well as regional rather than local thinking. Moreover, due to the fiscal burden of shrinkage, city governments will be increasingly dependent on the willingness of citizens to help. Civic engagement, however, is not something that can be simply dictated. Therefore we conclude that the authorities of Europe's shrinking cities should first enable their citizens to care for their community before asking them to do so
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1507-1523
JournalEuropean planning studies
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • METIS-305246
  • IR-91916


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