Dealing with post-industrial decline has hitherto not been a subject of detailed interest to architects and planners, who tend to see the subject as an uninteresting set of defensive measures, or an opportunity for 'regeneration', which turns out to be little more than sporadic business parks or American-style entertainment complexes which suck further life out of city centres.
But the German government is showing the way through its national building and transport ministry, with a series of case studies of smaller towns and how they can be transformed, even though they end up smaller. Will it catch on here? One promising sign is a report from the National Retail Planning Forum, commissioned on the subject of secondary shopping, another unfashionable area for most architects and planners. In fact, the report makes a convincing case for why it should be valued, and the things which planners can and should do to encourage vitality away from prosperous city centres.
This includes making parking easy - another verboten subject in the minds of the anti-car brigade.
Meanwhile, the shrinking city problem remains; is landscape, not to say forest, the answer?