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Smart shrinkage solutions? The future of present-day urban regeneration on the inner peripheries of Europe

Professor Vlad Mykhnenko

Associate Professor of Sustainable Urban Development, University of Oxford


  • The Urban Futures method can be successfully applied to complex social phenomena.

  • 22 effective urban regeneration projects are uncovered in 7 shrinking cities, with an overall 57% chance to deliver the intended benefits in 40 years' time.

  • Business-orientated projects are found to be most resilient vis-à-vis the future.

  • People-orientated projects are least likely to perform well by 2060.

  • Place-orientated projects fall in between the other two types of urban regeneration.


This paper offers a critical, evidence-based reflection on a series of applied policy solutions to the problem of urban shrinkage. By focussing on seven typical shrinking cities across Europe that once were on the edge of an abyss, this study showcases how the urban areas experiencing long-term population decline strive to regenerate their local economies, strengthen the municipal fiscal base, transform the built environment, and improve connectivity and liveability for retaining current and attracting new residents.

In doing so, the paper problematises the common perception of shrinking cities as ‘left behind’ ‘places that don’t matter’. It demonstrates that shrinking cities are not mere victims, requiring paternalistic guidance from above; they continuously seek capacities to help themselves in the face of dramatically changing circumstances.

Furthermore, the paper pioneers the trans-disciplinary application of the Urban Futures Method, a participatory action research methodology to test the likely performance of 22 most popular regeneration projects discovered in the seven cities concerned in a series of possible future scenarios in the year 2060.

Considering future changes in society, technology, economy, environment and policy, the paper finds a 57% probability, overall, of these present-day urban regeneration endeavours to deliver their intended benefits in forty years’ time. Organisation- and business-orientated regeneration projects are found to be most resilient in the future; people-orientated projects are assessed as least likely to perform well in the long-run, with place-orientated projects falling fairly in between the other two classes of urban regeneration policies.

Mykhnenko, Vlad. (2023). Smart shrinkage solutions? The future of present-day urban regeneration on the inner peripheries of Europe. Applied Geography. 157. 103018. 10.1016/j.apgeog.2023.103018.

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