Being honest

On 4 juni 2015, in demografie, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Economist of 30 May 2015:

So many cities will decline. Not because of suburbanisation, but for demographic reasons. People are getting older. The younger ones are getting mobile. In Japan 20 cities with more than 300.000 inhabitants are already declining, so do 60 out of 107 German cities. In The Economist an article was published on this new global trend. People think urbanization is the dominant trend now. In a way, it is. But at the same time many cities are shrinking.  And, in the near future more and more of them will. Only the biggest cities will keep on growing. This trend holds not only for rustbelt cities in America and Europe. Even Asian cities like Seoul are shrinking nowadays. The Economist: “A city can lose people and barely notice. It might even have to build more homes, since in many countries more people are living alone.” I think it is not only not noticing. You are not allowed to talk openly about decline. Cities are proud things, they all think they will keep on growing. Most cities simply do not want to know.

In the Netherlands most cities are already shrinking for the same reasons. The Dutch are ageing, the young generation is moving to great places, immigration has almost stopped. And cities in the Low Countries are far too small. However, no one talks about it yet. Only the postwar ‘growth towns’, demographers admitted in a recent study, will become ‘grey towns’. And the shrinking process happens only in the periphery, they say. No way. Considering that cities are economic powerhouses, this means that the Dutch economy already is lagging behind. Now you know why. The Economist: “Persistent decline is harmful, especially if the population is ageing as well as shrinking. As factories and homes are abandoned, the local economy can spiral downward.” It’s not that bad yet. But time will tell. What cities, confronted with decline, most often do is developing bold schemes to counteract the downward trend. Iconic buildings, big plans, new museums. Those projects should be a warning. Most of them will be futile. Worse even, investing in them could speed up the devolution. It is time to be honest. Some reading advice: ‘Villes et régions Européennes en décroissance: maintenir la cohésion territoriales’, M. Baron et. al. Paris 2010.

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