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Learning from innovative local strategies for European cities in decline

The research group coordinated by Simón Sánchez-Moral, a Ramón y Cajal Researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid belonging to the Heritage cluster of the Moncloa Campus, which includes Ricardo Méndez and José Prada (CSIC), examines the concept of "Shrinking Cities" in depth to attempt to understand the keys to economic recovery of some European cities in decline. A synthesis of this study has just been published by the OECD along with a selection of best practices worldwide.

29/06/2012

Learning from innovative local strategies for European cities in decline
The research group coordinated by Simón Sánchez-Moral, a Ramón y Cajal Researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid belonging to the Heritage cluster of the Moncloa Campus, which includes Ricardo Méndez and José Prada (CSIC), examines the concept of "Shrinking Cities" in depth to attempt to understand the keys to economic recovery of some European cities in decline. A synthesis of this study has just been published by the OECD along with a selection of best practices worldwide.

Although at present on a global level there is certainly an upward trend in the growth of cities –considered as centres for innovation and knowledge– in fact from a historical perspective some cities seem to fall behind from this general trend. These cities, affected by a medium to long-term urban crisis, have seen their population decline over the years. They are what the experts refer to as "Shrinking Cities" which the collective imagination usually associates with extreme cases (e.g. Detroit). However, many other examples can be found worldwide. In the European context, some reports highlight as baseline data that 53% of major cities saw a decline in population between 2000 and 2005.

The experts cite many different reasons - both short and long-term - for this phenomenon, ranging from natural disasters and armed conflict to depleted natural resources or a crisis of the productive model, while at the same time they point out a series of related effects, such as demographic decline and exodus of population to other cities, loss of economic attraction, an increasingly non-functional construction space or social and environmental problems.

In Spain, only 28 cities with over 20,000 inhabitants have shown a negative demographic trend since the 1980s. These are mainly traditionally industrial or mining cities on the Atlantic Arc, affected by the crisis of the Fordist productive system, in some cases dating back to the mid 1970s. But the decline is only the first part of the story. The second phase of the study concentrates on a case study of the city of Avilés which, in the opinion of the authors, corresponds closely to recent theories of ‘territorial resilience’ – the capacity of cities and regions to adapt to the effect of external shocks. Hence, after twenty years of decline linked to the restructuring of the iron and steel industry complex and the loss of almost 7,000 jobs in the 1990s, this city in Asturias has recently begun to show signs of recovery.

So what lessons can be learned and applied to other contexts of crisis? First, far from attempting to return to a pre-existing status quo, all the evidence points to ‘reinvention’ which aims at a more diversified local economy where tourism and the cultural industry are valued as strategic, complementary sectors, while still not ignoring the city’s past. This has been brought about thanks to the many urban projects set up in response to an integrated view combining economic revitalization and urban regeneration. These projects include the environmental restoration of the estuary, adding an extension to the port, the refurbishing of the historic city centre and flagship projects including the Niemeyer Centre. All these initiatives are supported by a novel institutional architecture fostering collaboration between local stakeholders and encouraging the inclusion of the city in international projects and networks. This social and institutional capital may become another specific development resource, just like the existing cultural and natural heritage.

Obviously, Aviles still has challenges to face and the current economic crisis and lack of institutional stability, evident in relation to certain urban projects, generate uncertainty. However, this only confirms the need to continue to investigate local processes of adaptation and innovative response, which are by definition dynamic.

Official web page of the COST Action Cities Regrowing Smaller (CIRES): Fostering Knowledge on Regeneration Strategies in Shrinking Cities across Europe

Local Scenarios of Demographic Change (OCDE)



Author of the article: Simón Sánchez Moral

Tag: Patrimonio Cultural    Source: CEI Campus Moncloa

Event date:

29/06/2012


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