In the modern world, especially in developed countries, “shrinking cities” have become a serious issue due to changing industrial structures, slowing economic growth, population decline, aging populations, and declining birth rates. This phenomenon, which has become prominent in the 21st century and is associated with the terms “anti-urbanization,” “de-urbanization,” “city depopulation,” and “decentralization and inversion of large cities,” has changed dramatically when compared to the 20th century, which experienced rapid industrialization and urbanization.
The changes in these cities call for a reflection on the traditional urbanization and socioeconomic policies that presuppose it. Many countries share this issue, but it is extremely serious here in Japan where we live, as the population decline and extreme population aging during peacetime are progressing in a manner that has never been experienced before in human history.
In response to these urban challenges, governments, businesses, and citizens are attempting to use smart technology in shrinking cities. The goal is to make cities more compact, while supporting people who remain in the urban area, by making the medical care and transportation “smart.” In city centers, attempts have been made to create new urban spaces through efficient infrastructure management, as well as smart technology that is environmentally and energy friendly. City governments are promoting air and water quality control, traffic control, waste treatment, etc. by monitoring social capital through the Internet of Things (IoT). In doing so, they are endeavoring to provide their citizens with sustainable economic and employment opportunities.
Many issues were raised at the forum by members from around the world. There was an active debate, especially on the concept of the “Shrinking City,” confirming that this is an urgent policy issue in many countries. Maintaining existing infrastructure and public services have become financially difficult in cities that are experiencing depopulation. Moreover, a lot of opinions articulated that it is not necessary to regard such city contraction as “declining,” but rather it would be necessary to have a change in thinking to position it positively as the new “norm.” The basis should be “improving the quality of life” for people.
What, then, are the important aspects related to “quality of life” for those coming face to face with the issues of a shrinking city?
First of all, everyone needs to be included in the city without people and communities being divided. While many cities focus on central development policies as a countermeasure against shrinking cities, they may, in fact, cause the gap between the suburbs to increase. In addition, progress toward gentrifying the city center will also lead to the inability of existing citizens, especially low-income people, to live there. Policy responses to public facilities and public spaces also need to be reviewed, keeping in mind the principle of social inclusion.
Second, the city “quality of life” is defined by the diversity of the people, and cities become rich and dynamic precisely because diverse people live and interact with each other. In that case, social inclusion and diversity will become compatible without excluding anyone, as long as the philosophies of self-respect and equality are shared by everyone.
Third, when considering policy responses in light of a shrinking city, it is important to grasp the historical and cultural characteristics of that city. A city is a historical product; the city is none other than DNA that will be carried into the future. Policies that choose to ignore this fact could lead to destroying the city and making people unhappy.
Fourth, in policies for shrinking cities, smart technology can be used to streamline infrastructure and to create entertainment activities. This use will be rapidly progressing from now on, but it is necessary to be alert to the response to the digital divide among individuals and to be cautious about gentrification, especially from the perspective of the aforementioned social inclusion.
It is thought that the previously vague principles about the policies for shrinking cities have been organized through the forum discussions. This is a very significant contribution from this forum, and it is possible to further refine these principles by guiding them and moreover, by analyzing each country’s urban policy and its impact.
It is anticipated that, for the first time, there will be a practical academic approach with regard to the concept of the shrinking city.