Design Strategies to respond to the challenges of shrinking city

Design Strategies to respond to the challenges of shrinking city


Shrinking cities have been on the agenda of many academic disciplines. Particularly urban designers have expressed creative ways to approach shrinking cities through mixes of aesthetic aims with institutional, social, economic and political factors. Shrinking cities present a lot of challenges for urban development that call for solutions in order to enable viability of shrinking cities. Obvious one is the challenge of redesigning physical environment represented in vacant properties. In this respect, main question for urban designers in shrinking cities is how to tackle shrinking city while respecting agency of its inhabitants?

In this paper*, Kim focuses on social aspects of urban design. In other words, he pleads for designing for place and people in shrinking cities. In this respect, Kim is showing concern for social problems and searching for spatial solutions to overcome them. He suggests to articulate and promote a shrinking sensitive urban design approach. This emphasis on social needs is not that new in shrinking cities debate: many authors have talked about so called social urbanism. However, this important paper once again goes to prove these issues deserve attention. Through the paper the relevance of social solutions and involvement of community is emphasized. In this respect, Kim places people before form as he argues that feasibility of any offered solution depends on the strength of social context. This is a challenge in itself as vulnerable populations are often overrepresented in shrinking cities.  

This paper presents review of some urban design remedies responding to challenges of shrinkage. Kim explores variety in approach in shrinking cities research and looks not only at economic aspects and developments of these projects but also at civic improvements that resulted from these projects. He presents analysis of relevant approaches such as: building a visible safety net for vulnerable populations; creating place based social networks and reconfiguring the city’s stigmatized image. Based on analysis of these approaches four strategies are suggested for design practitioners and policy makers to choose and adopt during the planmaking processes: “urban connectors”,  “place patchwork”, “social incubators” and “process-based urbanism”.

Kim concludes with several advice for urban designers: put people first, start small, begin to change things with one step at the time and initiate scaling when circumstances, institutions and politics permit. In this way the question: ‘is shrinking good or bad?’ is avoided by shifting the discussion from urban shrinkage to urban qualities.

Maja Ročak, februari 2019

* Source:

Kim, S. (2019). Design strategies to respond to the challenges of shrinking city. Journal of Urban Design, 24(1), 49-64. doi:10.1080/13574809.2018.1554345