Global Context ///

6.1 billion people currently live on the earth, 3 billion of them in cities. By 2030, the population of the world will have increased by 2 billion (+33%). This increase will be stem almost exclusively from the growth in urban population. Every day, 190,000 new city-dwellers are added all over the world, 2 in every second. In the year 2030, 4.9 billion people will live in cities.

But not all cities are taking part in this competition. Whether in Germany or the USA, in Russia or China, in South Africa or Iran, everywhere there are also shrinking cities that the constant media focus on boomtowns and megacities all too easily overlooks.

In the last 50 years, about 370 cities with more than 100,000 residents have temporarily or lastingly undergone population losses of more than 10%. In extreme cases, the rate of loss reached peaks of up to 90% (Âbâdân, Iran).

Animated World Map of Shrinking Cities ///

In the annals of history, the decline of cities is usually depicted as a catastrophic, exceptional event (Atlantis, Troy, Pompeii, etc.), but an examination of the past 50 years shows a contrary development. Shrinking cities are increasingly a lasting phenomenon. The increase in the population of growing cities is markedly higher than the losses of the shrinking cities, but the number of shrinking cities has greatly increased. Between 1950 and 2000, the number of shrinking cities has increased by 330%, while the increase in the number of cities with more than 100,000 residents has amounted to only 240%. Thus, despite all the expectations created by the scenarios of constant growth, the number of shrinking cities has increased faster than the number of boomtowns.

Some cities have been losing population for a period of more than 50 years (for example, most of the shrinking cities in the USA). In other cases, the period of shrinkage has lasted only a few years (for example, Basra, Iraq; Manila, the Philippines). In extreme situations, for example wars or disasters, the loss of population has occurred as a shock when most residents were forced to leave their city. Thus, during the Iran-Iraq War, Khorramshahr and Âbâdân (both in Iran) lost more than 20% of their populations within a single year.

Most shrinking cities in the last 50 years have been in Western industrial countries, especially in the USA (59), Britain (27), Germany (26), and Italy (23). Since 1990, shrinking cities have increasingly been found in former Warsaw Pact countries, like Russia (13), Ukraine (22), and Kazakhstan (13). Between 1950 and 2000, there have also been an above-average number of shrinking cities in South Africa (17) and Japan (12). But the centers of gravity of this development have been in Europe and the USA. And this trend will increase, because in the future Europe will hardly participate in worldwide population growth. In 35 years, only 10% of the world's population will live in the Western world, and some countries must prepare for a general decrease in population.

For a worldwide investigation of shrinking cities, the project Shrinking Cities is evaluating historical population data from more than 8,000 cities. This evaluation's period of measurement extends from 1950 to 2000. All known shrinking cities with populations larger than 100,000 were taken into consideration for the international comparison and the worldwide cartography. The results of the study were shown at the exhibition "Shrinking Cities" and were published in the form of an atlas.

(Global Study: Büro Philipp Oswalt, Research: Tim Rieniets)

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