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The (re)population of rural areas

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In a word...

Yves Champetier,
Director, LEADER European Observatory


“(Re)populating the countryside” is the title of this issue of LEADER MAGAZINE, itself symbolic at a time when LEADER II is nearing completion and LEADER+ is set to begin.

For decades the countryside in many regions of Europe was synonymous with inevitable decline, exodus, ageing, and desertification, but what is the situation today?

A number of areas are “redeveloping” themselves, and some are even witnessing a “rural renaissance”, as John Bryden would say. Of course the areas experiencing this “rebirth” are generally to be found near large urban centres, in the valleys rather than the mountains, in areas well equipped with modern transport facilities rather than in hard-to-reach areas. But this trend of renewal is also growing, spreading to areas where until recently development was not considered possible.

This phenomenon is especially encouraging since those areas most people were too willing to write off have gradually seen a burgeoning of local dynamism, the emergence of a collective will, and the building of a project for the future of the community as a whole. And LEADER has often played a decisive role in this. Despite all this, a lot of areas continue to suffer from the major handicap resulting from too many dramatic years of rural depopulation, namely, too few births to renew the generations, thus a shortage of “living strengths”.

In this context, it is significant that one of the last LEADER II seminars organised, and described below in the article by Corinne Legrand, concerned the repopulation of rural areas, and more precisely ways to encourage people to move there to live and work.

For those areas that continue to lose inhabitants, the arrival of new families and new workers is a must. This implies a comprehensive approach that takes into account all the aspects of integration: housing, work, income, the presence of services, and social and cultural integration.

In parallel, city dwellers are looking for a new living environment. Although not always simple, a meeting point therefore has to be found between the expectations of one group and the aspirations of another. This is a major challenge for many rural areas, a challenge that has not really been tackled yet, that is still given too little consideration in the various public interventions and thus where a lot remains to be done in the years ahead.

The theme “Repopulating the countryside” clearly reflects the fact that today many rural areas, whose attitude varied between more or less active resistance to an inevitable marginalisation, have decided to go on the offensive and invent a new future.

Of course the situation remains complex, and in many cases nothing has been gained. But nothing has been lost either. In this period of great change brought about in particular by the internationalisation of the economy and the widespread development of the information society, rural areas do have assets. To take advantage of these, they must, with the support of new rural policies and the LEADER+ Initiative, show even more voluntarism, creativity and innovation.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.22 - Spring, 2000

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