Cities and peripheral areas are on different demographic paths. Many villages and small towns are experiencing accelerated demographic change. The population is shrinking and ageing faster. Young people in particular are being drawn to the large urban areas with their universities and diverse job opportunities; and they often do not return to their home regions later with a degree in their pocket. New jobs in knowledge-intensive societies are mainly created where there is a critical mass of creative companies, research centres and bright minds. This is why metropolitan areas are growing, not only in Germany but also worldwide, while more remote parts of the country are losing inhabitants.
In particular, when young people leave the structurally weak and rural regions, those regions lose their future demographic and economic potential, and become at risk of falling into a downward spiral of low economic vitality, population decline and shrinking supply. This happens as infrastructures such as local transport, shopping facilities or medical services can hardly be organized and financed in the traditional way. It is hence in this context, that those regions are also described as "disconnected".
New ideas for “urban” villages
New and demand-oriented solutions are needed to maintain supply and avoid a downward spiral. In rural and demographically shrinking regions, mayors, authorities, panel of doctors, and committed citizens along with associations and other civil society organisations are taking new approaches to meet the needs of the population. Recently, a creative urban scene with innovative living and working projects has also been testing how new forms of digital work can be combined with rural life. This represents a great opportunity for small municipalities as urban-rural migration not only brings along new inhabitants and tax payers to the countryside, but also new ideas. They are founding rural co-working spaces, looking for ways to stay mobile in the village without a car, thinking about farm shops to improve local supply, opening galleries and organizing festivals. Above all, however, they are creating digital islands that point the way to the village of the future and can become demographic flagships for their regions.
Civil engagement makes the difference
How vibrant a region is also depends on the commitment of its inhabitants. More and more often, they are taking on tasks of general interest, from village shops and swimming pools run by cooperatives to citizen buses and organised neighbourhood assistance for the elderly. Their commitment allows their villages to look forward to a more favourable demographic future. For the feeling of self-efficacy strengthens local self-confidence and binds people to the region. But demographic change has also an impact on civil engagement. Where the population is aging or even declining, there are less people who want to and can get engaged in civil activities. This makes it all the more important for policy makers at local and federal level to create the right framework conditions for civil engagement - from the necessary legal flexibility to the provision of low-threshold financial support. However, rigid requirements, laws and administrative regulations often impede the drive for action on the ground.