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The Future of the Countryside

The Future of the Countryside

foto van The Future of the Countryside

Regions popularize by capitalizing on their own particular strengths.  Regions will look to connect to other regions, whereas nations tend to value their sovereignty and isolation.  But for everyone there can only be a future if they take into account the bottom-up dynamic of the new world.  Within national economies there are many city regions of importance – in Holland for example the brain-city is Eindhoven, the port-city is Rotterdam and the creative capital city is Amsterdam.                                                                                                                                

Economy is the driving force in this world, and the cities and their environs as the hubs of economic activity are often leading even national strategy.  Cities remain centers for innovation and progress although now with access to high speed broadband connection people in the rural areas are making up ground fast.  It is now possible to set up as entrepreneur in an old barn and hire in as much computer memory and calculation capacity via the cloud to allow you to compete with what was until recently only within reach of big business.  A good example is big data analysis.  In other words, to get on in business you no longer need to be tied to a big company or stay in the city.  Of course rural areas have plenty of economic activity of their own.  There is agriculture and horticulture, in a country like Holland this sector is responsible for about 10 percent of the Dutch economy, and also energy production and tourism.  Local authorities are becoming more powerful by comparison with the central administration.  Many important tasks in the social domain that were the province of central government have been handed over to local authorities since 2015.  The justification for this decentralization is that local authorities are closer to their citizens and able to deliver services with more efficiency and less bureaucracy, and are therefore cheaper.  Local authorities are destined to become the first authority, and down the line more and more government tasks are likely to be decentralized, especially given the expectation that central government income is likely to decline by 30 to 50 percent in the coming ten years.  The ideal model is the Swiss democratic structure with much more direct influence for citizens and local communities, which govern themselves more or less within the confines of their national jurisdiction.  This model is a good fit for our times when citizens increasingly want to influence and make decisions from the bottom up.  At least 86 percent of our country is undeveloped land and part of the countryside.  The cost of living as well as rental values are much lower in rural areas, whilst rents in cities can be prohibitive for a new start up business.  This at a time when many buildings in the countryside are standing empty because of changes in agriculture – rural regions are reinventing themselves.  This in the context of keeping the agriculture and food sector going because people will always need to eat, and local produce is becoming more appreciated.  In a country such as Spain with its massive youth unemployment, the return to rural areas is already a trend known as ‘rurbanisation’.  In Holland rurbanisation is also happening, for example with people moving to the county of Zeeland.  Small is the new big.  Demography is crucial: in an overcrowded world, space and tranquility will become more valued.  Small towns in rural areas are becoming more attractive to entrepreneurs now that there is broadband in place: E-towns.  Rural areas will start to use planning mechanisms to specialize in certain economic sectors; prioritizing agriculture, horticulture, tourism or energy production.  Local authorities will need to start making clear choices.  The power of local authority management teams will need to be strengthened.  We don’t need bigger local authorities, but instead more powerful regions with clout.  With investment and local authority leaders with courage, the countryside has a bright future.

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