Dangerous downward spiral
As young people leave rural and underperforming areas, those regions face the risk of a downward spiral of economic, demographic and infrastructural decline. Falling demand leads to less funding for public transport and fewer supermarkets, doctors and schools. The affected regions can also be described as ‘disconnected’.
New ideas for ‘urban’ villages
Maintaing local infrastructure in shrinking rural areas requires new and demand-oriented solutions. Mayors, local governments, doctors and the general public working have already developed new approaches to tackle these issues, together with associations and civil society organisations. A creative urban scene has piloted innovative projects such as shared housing and workspaces in rural areas, aiming to find out whether the future of work can be adapted to rural life. These projects provide huge opportunities for small municipalities as they bring people and new ideas to the countryside. They include innovative rural co-working spaces, car-sharing services, farm shops and cultural events. Most importantly, by creating digital islands, these projects can become regional flagships – leading the way to the villages of the future.
Civil engagement makes the difference
Citizens and cooperatives are increasingly transforming rural areas themselves. They run village shops and swimming pools or provide neighbourhood assistance for the elderly. Using innovative ideas to attract young people to the countryside helps transform the local population age structure. These activities strengthen the sense of community and keep people in the region. However, demographic change also affects civil engagement. An ageing or even declining population means that there are fewer people able to get involved in civic activities.
This makes it all the more important for local and national policy-makers to create the right conditions for civic participation – from the necessary legal flexibility to easy access to financial support. However, rigid requirements, laws and administrative regulations currently often impede local action.