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Demographic change

Demographic change

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While capital metropolitan areas often experience constant population growth, over the last decades many non-capital small and medium-sized EU cities are facing decrease in population. Indeed, the most dynamic metropolitan areas are increasingly growing whereas already declining territories present particularly affected economic structures. Population loss and changes can be related to the shrinkage process. Shrinkage is an overly complex and recent process that affects the spatial-economic structure of cities (ie. lower use of infrastructures, impact on the housing market) as well as the social and cultural urban fabric (ie. attractiveness of the city, social and intergenerational link) and results in population loss. The phenomenon is far from being only driven by demographic factors such as population ageing or migration flows. Indeed, economic decline, extreme weather events, policy changes, and processes such as metropolisation and urban sprawl are key drivers that affects the demographic, economic and social structures of cities. Thus, urban shrinkage brings about fundamental challenges for urban societies, planning processes and governance structures.  

Acknowledging shrinkage and adapting to economic and demographic conditions could be an opportunity for urban authorities to modernise local governance and public services and to reorganise public building and land use policies. In order to help addressing these challenges, the 5th UIA call for proposals invited urban authorities to propose innovative solutions to adapt to demographic decline, to reverse demographic trends and to attract relevant economic activities and residents for sustainable urban development by putting forward innovative and participatory actions addressing:

  • The accessibility and sustainability challenges regarding basic public services and infrastructures;
  • The reorganisation of land use, public buildings and administration;
  • The economic development encompassing new economic trends, e.g. "silver economy", 5.0 technologies, IA; training life-long strategies, e.g upskilling and training facilities development; fostering local entrepreneurship.

Trends of the solutions proposed

17 urban authorities from 9 European Member States proposed innovative solutions to demographic related challenges. The diversity of the submitted proposals acknowledges the different drivers of demographic changes and their many consequences on the local development. Most of them focussed on demographic changes consequences affecting local technical and built infrastructures or/and the social environment. Several urban authorities proposed  strategies that while acknowledging the new shrinking situation try to adapt services and infrastructure to the new demographic conditions whereas others are explicitly exploring solutions to reverse the shrinking trend by recreating attractive conditions for their territories and communities, including innovative ways to reinvent the image of the city, innovating in marketing and communication. Several projects were more oriented towards the management of the current situation of urban shrinkage rather than growth. These proposals tried to innovate through reinventing new uses for available buildings, improving existing places, or by offering new services to their citizens, sometimes involving new technological innovations.

Finally, some of the projects targeted social problems by using social innovation, providing new responses to social needs, often inadequately met in shrinking cities. These social innovations transform socio-spatial relations and try to improve individual and collective well-being.

In more specific terms innovative solutions within the submitted proposals relied upon:

  • Reinventing new uses for available buildings, improving existing places, or by offering new services to their citizens, sometimes involving new technological innovations, or new local economy and business models.
  • Promoting active aging, fighting loneliness, promoting community identity, improving the quality of life of the city, its liveability for the inhabitants, and eventually restoring the attractiveness of the city in order to attract new residents, preferably the young, using culture and creativity as a magnet.

UIA projects, solutions implemented and common issues

The project selected under the demographic change topic will be implemented by the City of Verona. Verona is experiencing a decreasing birth rate/ageing population and a considerable increase of single-person households. Acknowledging this particular demographic context, S.T.E.P.S. promotes an innovative social and territorial model, aiming at the prevention and treatment of negative symptomatic features (i.e. loneliness), with the belief that a welcoming, inclusive and caring environment helps to prevent degenerative states of wellbeing/health and increase people's quality of life.  S.T.E.P.S. will define the dimensions of loneliness in the wider framework of vulnerability, by creating a Loneliness Index - based on the data collection of the local population - which will be used for decision-making processes and the creation of a local welfare service provisions. Through the regeneration and mapping of small and large urban spaces, restoring their function of community oases and welfare providers, S.T.E.P.S. will empower citizens to take actions against loneliness, while offering solidarity activity, economic benefits and services to the community. These solutions will be combined with a strong digital component, which will strengthen the correlation between relationships and the physical urban spaces.


Get inspired and find more with UIA experts and UIA knowledge lab

UIA experts capture, analyse and narrate the main findings, lessons learnt and experiences coming from the different UIA demographic changes projects. Look for their journals (analysis on main challenges for implementation) zoom-ins (focus on a crosscutting dimension or specific component of the project) and web articles (overview of the project) to get deeper knowledge about demographic changes and related topics.

Explore the UIA Knowledge Lab and search for key words such as: ageing and loneliness.

Additional useful information


proposals received


project approved

€ 3.9 M

EDRF invested

See all resources on this topic Go to the UIA Knowledge Lab

Demographic change's projects