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Shrinking Cities: Effects on Urban Ecology and Challenges for Urban Development

Marcel Langner and Wilfried Endlicher

Cities in industrialised countries have grown over time, yet shrinkage of cities occurs in many regions. This process has many impacts on urban ecology, which can be observed on urban brownfield sites in particular. The integration of these sites with sustainable urban development must be managed. This presents new challenges for urban planners. The first chapters give an overview of urban ecology concepts and how research in this field is affected by urban shrinkage. The following sections are concerned with botanical aspects of shrinking cities, perception of nature in the context of shrinkage and discussion of aspects of urban planning with reference to several regional examples. The book concludes with a study of urban shrinkage during the life cycles of city archetypes.
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Susan C. Wessman

1. Overview

The phenomenon of shrinking cities is not new; it recurs throughout history due to global and local, natural and human-generated causes. On a time-scale that is appropriate to cities, shrinking rarely results in any city’s death, that is, in its actual disappearance from the face of the Earth. Like biological organisms or communities, cities have life cycles: they germinate, grow, propagate, and deteriorate. Unlike an organism, however, death does not inevitably follow deterioration. Cities are more like biological communities in that deterioration can lead to re-growth. For both urban and biological communities, deterioration takes many forms such as stagnation, shifting populations, and changing resources. Shrinking of a city’s population and stagnation of neighborhoods are two of the most striking indicators of urban deterioration. World-wide these are considered causes for alarm. The fact that a city shrinks does indicate that something is out of balance, but this shrinking also creates opportunities for regeneration. In this way cities seem to follow a ‘succession’, but one that differs from ecological succession in that cities intentionally regenerate themselves, often evolving along new pathways. This is possible because a city is made of people and institutions that can mobilize to collectively address the causes of deterioration and to initiate healing, much like a body’s ability to heal an injury.

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