Exploring (im)mobility of people living in left-behind places in Germany: The case of Herne in the Ruhr Area

Serhii Svynarets (Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde)
Tim Leibert (Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde)
This paper presents the main aspiration and constraints to stay in left-behind cities in Germany on the example of the city of Herne and provides an overview of various mobility practices the residents rely on to overcome the negative effects of left-behindness in their everyday life.


The article of Rodríguez-Pose (2018) “The revenge of the places that don’t matter (and what to do with it)” has kicked-off academic discussions on left behind places in Europe – places that are typically affected by the processes of globalization, such as deindustrialization, discontent from global pipelines, lack of technological and social innovations. Often referred as ‘abgehängt’ (German for ‘suspended’) in German-speaking countries, one can identify these places by various “symptoms” of peripheralization including economic decline or long-lasting stagnation, decoupling from the centers of innovation and prosperity, dependency of local businesses and local citizens on government transfers, as well as ongoing social marginalization. Among all, the feeling of discontent as well as the perceived lack of opportunities and future prospects in these regions pushes many people to move away in search for a better life. However, only a minority of people from left-behind regions use migration as a tool to deal with the negative effects of left-behindness on their lives; the majority of people stay.

One of Germany’s most prominent examples of a left-behind urban region is the northern part of the Ruhr area. This paper presents a first look at the results of an ongoing research project focusing on the residential immobility of people in the city of Herne, characterized by a decades-long process of structural change. While the city is located in the geographic center of the big polycentric agglomeration, it can be easily described as an internal periphery that heavily relies on the employment, education and leisure opportunities of the surrounding urban centers. Based on the results of in-depth biographic interviews with local residents, this paper aims to present the main aspirations and constraints to reside in Herne. Supporting the idea of spatial relativeness of immobility and strong interdependence between mobility and immobility, the preliminary results of our study show that the decision to stay in a left-behind place often comes along with a reliance on various mobility practices (e.g. commuting, remote work, virtual communication etc.) to support residential decisions of people. Therefore, this paper also provides an overview of mobility practices the residents of Herne use in their everyday life to overcome the left-behindness in the specific context of the Ruhr area.

Rodríguez-Pose, Andrés. 2018. «The revenge of the places that don’t matter (and what to do about it).» Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 11(1): 189-209. https://doi.org/10.1093/cjres/rsx024