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International research project on the effects of demographic change


The Volkswagen Foundation has approved funding worth €361,000 for a three-year research project to study the effects of demographic change in cities. Czech and Polish cities are to be used as case studies to aid in identifying the experiences from the Eastern German Länder which are transferable and those characteristics which are not comparable. The UFZ Centre for Environmental Research (Umweltforschungszentrum Leipzig-Halle) is working closely on this project with the Czech and Polish Academies of Sciences and the Universities of Gdansk and London. The research project, ‘Social and spatial implications of demographic change for cities in Eastern Central Europe’, is one of five new projects supported by the Volkswagen Foundation through its funding initiative, ‘Unity amidst Variety? Intellectual Foundations and Requirements for an Enlarged Europe’.

City regions in Europe are currently facing far-reaching economic and social changes, which are leading to polarisation. On the one hand there are growth regions, such as the cities of Southern Germany or Northern Italy, where populations are growing and the economy is booming. On the other hand there are regions in decline in former industrial areas, such as Northern England, the Ruhrgebiet (Western Germany) and Eastern Germany. These areas are suffering from considerable losses of residential population with dramatic consequences: high housing vacancies, under-utilised infrastructure and large brownfield sites.

Cities in Eastern Central Europe are currently still predominantly viewed as booming regions with growing economies and populations. However, in the Czech Republic and Poland too the structural change is already linked to regional phenomena of decline, further exacerbated by far-reaching demographic changes. These include a dramatic drop in birth rates, more single households and the ageing of the population – although these may well be factors which the public are still largely unaware of. All these developments have as yet unknown effects on the cities, their housing markets and how they are used. The aim of the project is to employ the example of cities like Gdansk and Brno to explore these issues in more depth. “Above all we are interested in what are known as the second-level cities after the capital cities.

That means large cities with populations of between 100,000 and one million”, explains Dr Annegret Haase, a researcher at the UFZ. Together with her colleague, Dr Annett Steinführer, she is comparing the developments in the case study cities with those in Western Europe and Eastern Germany. As comparators they may take cities such as Lyon in France or Leipzig in Germany. They want to explore the following questions. What parallels are there? What distinctive features characterise the cities? Can Europe-wide patterns perhaps even be identified? “Initially we shall evaluate the data from the censuses in Poland and the Czech Republic. Then we will talk to local experts and finally we will undertake random sample surveys among the local people. These surveys will include asking people why they live where they do, how satisfied they are with the area in which they live and whether they perhaps want to move away.” In this way it is hoped not only to look at the developments which have taken place so far, but also to make prognoses for the future.

The Urban and Regional Research working group at the UFZ has been studying change in Eastern German cities for many years and is also involved in a number of EU projects. The central focus of the research activities is the challenges of sustainable urban redevelopment, linked to long-term population decline and demographic changes. The researchers´ aim is to develop concepts to help saving inner city areas and buildings from falling into disuse and to reduce the simultaneous expansion of settlements and transport infrastructure into hinterland areas.

Doris Boehme | alfa
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