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Sustainability 2016, 8(4), 382;

Searching for Social Sustainability: The Case of the Shrinking City of Heerlen, The Netherlands

NEIMED Centre of Expertise on Demographic Changes, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, Brusselseweg 150, 6217HB Maastricht, The Netherlands
Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Comeniuslaan 4, 6525 HP Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Department of Public Administration, University of Twente, Drienerlolaan 5, 7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Audrey L. Mayer, William D. Shuster, Ahjond S. Garmestani and Marc A. Rosen
Received: 28 December 2015 / Revised: 19 March 2016 / Accepted: 12 April 2016 / Published: 19 April 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustaining the Shrinking City: Concepts, Dynamics and Management)
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Shrinkage is a relevant phenomenon for many cities and this trend is predicted to continue in the future. Although urban shrinkage is well recognized in academic discourse, little research has been undertaken on its social aspects. This paper explores the concept of social capital in the context of urban shrinkage and elaborates on how it contributes to social sustainability in shrinking cities. After defining the concepts, we identify resources, empowerment, and participation as key indicators of social capital in the context of urban shrinkage. The paper analyzes these indicators in the shrinking, old industrial city of Heerlen, the Netherlands, based on 24 in-depth interviews with citizens, policy-makers, and entrepreneurs, as well as secondary data. The findings reveal the prominence of three interrelated issues: the importance of local culture, subjective experiences of shrinkage, and a lack of trust between citizens and politicians. We conclude that social capital can facilitate social sustainability in the context of urban shrinkage. However, trust and empowerment are not guaranteed in a shrinking context. In shrinking cities more investments should be made to foster cooperation between civil society and politics and the development of mutual trust. View Full-Text
Keywords: shrinking cities; social capital; social sustainability shrinking cities; social capital; social sustainability

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Ročak, M.; Hospers, G.-J.; Reverda, N. Searching for Social Sustainability: The Case of the Shrinking City of Heerlen, The Netherlands. Sustainability 2016, 8, 382.

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