Comparing the urban attributes that could halt urban depopulation. Friendly communities and quality green spaces might be the key for population stabilization while simultaneously contributing to health and wellbeing.

For the attention of: UN-Habitat, International Society of Urban Health, Smart Cities World, Urban Futures Research Group,  SCiRN™ (The Shrinking Cities International Research Network), Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Lisbon City’s Council.

The problem: Urban depopulation has serious impacts for the wellbeing of urban citizens. Therefore, knowing what urban characteristics might halt this process, by retaining current dwellers and even reversing it and by attracting new residents, is crucial for the future of these cities, and for the support of the wellbeing of these communities.

Closed shops and abandoned building can proliferate in areas that are depopulating, making the area less attractive and accelerating the process.

Closed Shops at Boavista Street, Lisbon, Portugal, 2014. ©M.Francisca Lima
Abandoned building at Boavista Street, Lisbon, Portugal, 2014. ©M.Francisca Lima

What we did: We tested preferences regarding different potential future urban neighbourhoods’ scenarios with 130 participants; some of whom were living in depopulating neighbourhoods, some were living in growing neighbourhoods and others were searching for a new house. We analysed and compared their preferences to understand better which urban characteristics would be more important in retaining existing residents and also attracting new residents to an area.

What our study adds: The results showed that residents of depopulating neighbourhoods value the presence of a friendly community more and were less negative about high population densities. House buyers valued environments with good quality green spaces significantly more than the other two groups.

Implications for city policy and practice: These findings suggest that friendlier communities and better-quality green spaces are key attributes both for encouraging current residents to remain and for attracting new residents to move in. These two attributes are also known to be relevant factors for overall citizens’ quality of life, health and wellbeing; they should, therefore, be given particular consideration in all interventions where depopulation is taking place.

Full research article: Communities facing urban depopulation: exploring people’s environmental preferences. A case study of Lisbon, Portugal

Authors: M. Francisca Lima (@franciscamlima), Catharine Ward Thompson (@CWardThompson), Peter Aspinall & Simon Bell. Editor: Marcus Grant