Solène LE BORGNE, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
The topic of urban shrinkage has been for about twenty years on the European research agenda, raising political and scientific awareness on this phenomenon. Shrinking cities have been defined as "urban areas that have experienced population loss, economic downturn, employment decline and social problems as symptoms of a structural crisis" (Martinez-Fernandez et al., 2012, p. 214). While the existing literature focused on the understanding and conceptualisation of urban shrinkage, as well as its implications for urban planning and governance, the consequences of the phenomenon on the residents’ experience of place is less documented. Shrinkage is a structural and long-term phenomenon that leads to in-depth transformations of the social and economic identity of an area and as such, it has strong temporal implications. In this paper, I argue that analysing how residents’ negotiate the temporal complexity of shrinking places (Ringel, 2018), can take further the understanding of their strategies to cope with the phenomenon. The results are drawn from qualitative studies conducted in two French medium-sized shrinking cities, Nevers and Dieppe. For both case-studies, I rely on the analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews, observations and documents. The findings show how residents develop a specific bond to places that embody the city’s lost grandeur – be it the thriving commercial city centre in Nevers or the port and ferry terminal in Dieppe. This bond includes a strong sensory aspect, involving smells, noises and experience of crowdedness that shape the representations of the place’s past. Finally, this relation to the past is socially differentiated, with different population groups claiming different pasts, revealing the presence of competing narratives that each differently inform and help make sense of present times.
Keywords: urban shrinkage|shrinking cities|time-space geographies|temporalities|nostalgia