Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wolves Slinking through the Crumbling City

On the outskirts of a German city nicknamed 'Hoy Woy' by its residents, wild wolves slink around abandoned and crumbling buildings. Why? Germans, it seems, and especially the citizens of Hoy Woy are reproducing at way below replacement rate, or the number of children each woman would need to have to keep the population constant. Anyone remotely employable leaves Hoy Woy, especially young women, leaving young unemployed men without prospects for either jobs or a family.

Besides slinking wolves, the shrinking population of German cities creates lopsided demographic ratios, with twice as many 40 year olds as 10 year olds. This article, though, and many like it, suggests that the demographic situation in Hoy Woy portends badly for Europe as a whole - Europeans have gone from producing 10 million babies a year, to less than 6 million. European civilization down the drain!

The problem with this pessimism is that it requires a pretty unthoughtful view of European culture, immigration, and the nature of cities. I am not sure I have the best grasp of all of these things in the world, but lets give it a try. Major German cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt have boomed, and became major international centers of culture and commerce (or at least of one or the other) while seeing a growing number of immigrants. Obviously the cause and effect here is tricky - do the immigrants create creative, dynamic cities, or do creative dynamic cities attract immigrants? Who knows. Point is, there doesn't seem to be much of a threat of these cities disappearing. So can you more easily find 'German culture,' whatever it is, in Hoy Poy, or in Berlin? Does German culture really mean Bavarian culture, with beer gardens and women in dirndles? Is German culture really the art scene in Berlin? Claiming that neither of these is endangered by the collapse of Hoy Woy doesn't take into account the ridiculous extent to which I'm privileging West German over East German culture, but anyway... The harmful effects of declining population rates have to do with the people who living in emptying cities, with few job opportunities and crumbling infrastructure, not with some theoretical idea of German culture. The thing about this claim, is that the first thing, the emptying cities thing, is addressed by immigration while the culture thing isn't.