Magazine article Newsweek International

The Shrinking Cities; What Used to Be a Regional Problem Is Sweeping the World

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Shrinking Cities; What Used to Be a Regional Problem Is Sweeping the World

Article excerpt

Byline: Stefan Theil

In 1960s America there was "white flight" to the suburbs. In the '70s and '80s the death of heavy industry emptied once proud cities like Manchester and Glasgow. Social and economic change has been wreaking havoc with cities for a long time, but each instance is usually thought of as an isolated event--or at least a regional disease. That's no longer true. As birthrates in more and more countries plummet, shrinking-city syndrome is becoming a worldwide crisis.

Aging countries are getting hit the worst. In Russia a combination of rock-bottom birthrates, decreased life expectancy and the collapse of communist-era industry is taking a toll. Seven major Russian cities were shrinking in 1990; by 2000 the number had soared to 93. In Japan, hundreds of small and midsize cities are thinning out. Even in China, the low birthrate means that coastal megacities like Shanghai are growing at the expense of dozens of less successful, now shrinking metropolises like Dalian, Chengdu and Nanchong. Today, while hundreds of millions of Asians and Africans are just starting to move to cities, one quarter of the world's urban centers are declining in population--twice the number a decade ago.

Wouldn't less-crowded cities be a good thing? Definitely not, according to "Shrinking Cities," a new exhibit in Berlin that compares city shrinkage across the world. In places like Detroit and Liverpool, shuttered stores and abandoned houses have led to increased violence. …

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