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16.10.2013 - Ausgabe: 5/2013

Demographic transition in urban development and sport

By Andrea Dittrich-Wesbuer, ILS Institut für Landes undStadtentwicklungsforschung gGmbH


Demographic transition is the current topic of a great number of research and modelling projects. It is also a hot topic in the media and among the public. One of the underlying reasons is the fact that the topic has social relevance to every individual. Many changes are also evident in urban development and in sport. A number of salient aspects of the topic will be discussed here from the professional perspective of an urban researcher.

Demographic transition is a multi-faceted process. It should first of all be grouped by its constituent parts – commonly referred to under the catchphrase “older – fewer – motlier”. This describes very different trends which also have different impacts on urban development and sport. Whilst relentless aging causes especially a shift in the demand for accommodation, infrastructure or services by increasing numbers of elderly, negative growth highlights primarily vacancies and under-utilisation. The more disparate and increasingly differentiating society finally raises the question whether new
demands and differently structured role players should be accommodated – also in sport.
Current demographic forecasts are that the average age is set to increase from currently 43 years to 47 years in 2030 and that the population will simultaneously decrease by 3 million. This does not at first appear particularly startling. A few years older – so what? And the media is also currently reporting a slight increase in the population – due to a spike in immigration. Such development trends for Germany as a whole, however, or rough average numbers, ignore the actual explosive character of the demographic transition. A more differentiated analysis is required here, since individual processes are spatially quite different. Especially regions with a weak economic
infrastructure and low employment potential are losing the young through internal migration, thereby rapidly ageing. These regions generally also record a clearly shrinking population whilst the
population of other regions is increasing. The spatial distribution of increase and loss has changed markedly in recent decades: Whilst the population of the nineties was clearly shrinking in the East and growing in the West, the picture now is one of a heterogeneous patchwork of shrinking and growing. In both the West and the East the population of major cities (although not all) is on the increase. This trend towards “re-urbanisation” was highlighted by the media and has now been scientifically verified, due mainly to the high numbers of young people in education and training (educational migration).
Whilst the concepts of “older” and “fewer” have by now been adequately defined as primarily the preparation and conveyance of existing practical knowledge, the concept of “motlier” remains patchy and unclear. We have, for instance, no reliable knowledge base by which to assess future lifestyles and needs of the population. A current research project of the Karlsruhe and Aachen universities demonstrates that we may expect a rich bouquet of different ways of life. Seven future lifestyles were defined for the rapidly growing group of elderly alone and were named after titles of magazines for better visualisation. In the field of sport, research yielded the good news that fitness and action will have high priority with future seniors. One of the lifestyles has therefore been named “Fit for fun”. Based on these and other active types such as “Adventure and travel”, or “Pleasant living”, lead to the conclusion that the interest in organised sports clubs is likely to decline in future, in
favour of individual, fitness-directed types of sport. For other, locally strongly rooted types (“Hörzu” TV guide; “My family and I”), club activities close to home may be of interest – provided they can
be motivated. If these and other indicators in the study could be further concretised through current research, they may be of use to urban development planning.
What are the consequences of “older”, “fewer” and “motlier” to cities and communities? To answer this question it is necessary to zoom in on the local level of suburbs and quarters, which will be affected to a widely varying degree. Loss of population and ageing is often more concentrated in individual parts of a city, where their impact may be severe. The abovementioned process of growth and shrinkage side by side therefore exists on the local level as well.

The housing development areas of the fifties and sixties, increasinglycharacterised by the older generation (often living alone) and affected by increasing vacancy and loss of value, are a good example of this. These problem areas exist not only in regions with high population losses. Even growing cities are increasingly confronted by such challenges among their residential areas.
Not only is the bad image of such residential areas a problem to the communities. Seen from the perspective of communal households, maintenance of the infrastructures is the main and increasing problem. Technical networks, for instance, are highly centralized and rigid, with high fixed costs. There is also the requirement for age-related replacement, presently on the increase especially in the older settlements.

This affects waste water disposal, for instance, seen as a prime example of the “demographic cost trap” and which in many regions is causing / will lead to massive increases of local taxes. The communal streets are expensive especially in terms of maintenance. Since these costs cannot be apportioned to individuals, they represent a heavy burden on the municipal budget, suffering from decreasing numbers of residents and therefore reduced income. The operating costs of schools and sports facilities, largely financed by municipalities, also represent a significant component of the financial commitment of cities and communities towards their residents.
Cities and communities need to confront the challenges of demographictransition. This applies especially to smaller, rural municipalities. Over many years of hope for ongoing or renewed growth, new areas for settlement have been assigned, without making the necessary adjustments. The city of Altena is an example, however, of the potential scope for action, no matter how strongly affected. A reduction from 32 000 residents in 1970 to about 18 000 in 2012 earned this Sauerland city (North Rhine-Westphalia), known for its magnificent medieval castle, the reputation of Germany’s fastest shrinking municipality. The downward spiral was set in motion by the consequences of vacant residential buildings and under-utilised infrastructures, as reflected in the city’s budgetary situation –
Altena has an emergency budget since 2001. A comprehensive adaptation process was launched around the turn of the millennium – leaving its marks in all spheres of public life. The initiator and driving force behind this process was the Mayor Dr. Hollstein, who
assumed office in 1999. Instead of distributing election presents, he
committed to the necessary measures right from the start, even though they were painful to the residents.

The measures taken extended to sport as well, where the city cancelled all subsidies of clubs, closed several schools, sports halls and an open air pool and implemented fees for the use of municipal sports facilities – promptly also leading to protests by the citizens. Since the city, however, simultaneously promoted model projects and raised supportive measures and, in close cooperation with the citizens, promoted new ideas and innovations such as meeting venues, town shops and similar, the citizenry remained positive and committed in an honorary capacity. The municipal development and action concept, developed in a broad process of cooperation including also sports functionaries and finally instituted in 2007 in the form of many concrete measures agreed to by all parties, was contributory to this success. The concept included a mission statement
and visions for the future of the city emphasising its future course, such as the development of its tourist attractions. The reconstruction is still in progress and sacrifices were made in the field of sports as well, such as the withdrawal of the table tennis club TTC Altena from the professional arena – the final demise of a city star in the sports field. The mayor emphasises, however, that the city is well served with a wide range of clubs boasting stable membership numbers, thanks to the committed engagement of the Altena citizenry.

Examples such as Altena are by now followed by more municipalities who increasingly realise that the quality of life in cities and communities can only be ensured through active policies and clear commitment to the necessary changes, however painful. Sport and its administrators are in a position to make important contributions in this respect, well into the future.

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