Since about the 1980s shrinkage has become a new normality especially for European cities and urban regions. As a consequence of the shrinking process, new dimensions of wastelands appear in the affected cities. Urban planners have to find solutions for these “holes” in the urban fabric and new visions are needed for open spaces. In the last few years, the wilderness concept has emerged in the planning field and it has become a fashionable term, in particular in urban restructuring in eastern Germany. If wilderness is a usable concept for urban restructuring, can wilderness be a new structuring element for urban planning? This article analyzes the mechanisms of formation of wasteland in shrinking cities, and then focuses on related debates in urban planning as well as the debates in urban ecology and nature conservation research. The article concludes by considering different aspects of these debates and the question of which role wilderness can play in shrinking cities is discussed.
Dieter Rink and Sigrun Kabisch
Since about the 1980s, shrinkage processes have been observed mainly
in the developed countries. Although population decreases has been
the main focus, other phenomena—such as the reduction of jobs, the
restructuring of industrial and urban regions, and the scarcity of public
commodities and natural resources—also deserve attention. Shrinkage
is by no means becoming the dominant mode of development
though some regional exceptions do exist. In this sense, it is comparable
to the modern growth processes that do not run concordantly.
Modern shrinkage processes are concentrated in certain economic
branches, institutions, social groups, and last but not least, regions.
Consequently, we find profound disparities with some countries where
parts of society face shrinkage processes while others face growth
processes. As observed by some scholars (e.g., Oswalt 2008), the growth
mode is losing its dominance in modern societies. However, a paradigm
shift toward shrinkage has not yet taken place. Rather one has
to assume a longer phase of side-by-side, contra-, and co-operative
growth and shrinkage processes. This phase may be shaped by its own
contradictions and conflicts, in particular by a high level of uncertainty.
In contrast to the social growth phase roughly until the early
1970s, this phase will probably be less easy to steer. Although growth
coalitions, typical for the previous phase, were based on the assumption
that profits were redistributed as welfare, the shrinkage alliances
are confronted with the financing of losses. Shrinkage processes challenge
operational routines and bring with them new positions of interest
that require novel coalitions among actors.