, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 13–21 | Cite as

Facing the challenge of shrinking cities in East Germany: The case of Leipzig

  • Marco Bontje


In the early 20th century, the East German city of Leipzig seemed well on its way to become a metropolis of international importance. The city was expected to grow towards over one million inhabitants in 2000. Seventy years later, Leipzig’s population has shrunk to less than 500,000 inhabitants instead. The German partition after World War II took away most of its national administrative and economic functions and much of its hinterland. The socialist GDR regime worsened the long-term development perspectives and living circumstances of the city. The German reunification brought new development chances, but like most East German cities, Leipzig’s hopes soon became disappointed. The local politicians faced a difficult redevelopment task: apart from the question how to revive the local and regional economy, they also had to deal with a housing vacancy rate of 20%, a huge need for renovation in the older neighbourhoods as well as in the socialist high-rise areas, the negative effects of urban sprawl on the city core, and various environmental pollution problems. After briefly describing the development path of Leipzig until the 1990s, the paper will discuss the current attempts of the city government to give Leipzig a more positive post-industrial future. On the one hand, Leipzig is developing a strategy to ‘downsize’ the city’s built environment and infrastructure to adapt to a probably lastingly smaller population. On the other hand, many growth instruments well known from the international scientific and political debate are tried to put Leipzig back on the (inter)national map. The paper will discuss these development strategies in the light of the international debate on the question ‘how to fight the shrinking city’, with specific attention for post-socialist cities.

Key words

East Germany Leipzig shrinking city urban development strategies 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marco Bontje
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Geography and Planning, Faculty of Social and Behavioural SciencesUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamNetherlands
  2. 2.Leibniz Institut für LänderkundeLeipzigGermany

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