18 December 2018

How can rural areas develop in an age of urbanisation? A new book raises questions and presents visions about the future of sparsely populated areas.

Mailboxes in a row on the Swedish countryside reminds  all Swedes about summer and vacation when time is not a factor more than when to have another cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll. Photo credit LottaVess“Many of the young people who leave sparsely populated areas to study, work and discover the world subsequently settle in towns. Refugees also often reside in metropolitan areas. So how do we want our countryside to be: what visions do we have for it? We must bring to the fore how we see the development of rural areas in the light of urbanisation”, says Josefina Syssner, docent and researcher at the Centre for Municipality Studies (CKS), LiU.

The role of agriculture

Josefina Syssner, forskare CKS, LiUJosefina Syssner Photo credit Fotograf RistenstrandDr. Syssner is editor of the anthology Nya visioner för landsbygden (“New visions for Rural Areas”) in which experts in the field, among them seven LiU researchers, discuss the issues from various perspectives. One such perspective is the role of agriculture: it can be a source of food, act as a resource for the tourism industry, and provide local employment. Other questions discussed include the level of service in sparsely populated areas, living and housing, threats associated with climate change, and digitisation.
Josefina Syssner describes visions in the initial chapter.
“I’m convinced that visions play an important role. They show us ideals to aim at – ideals that can be used as a basis for decisions. I find the discussion in Sweden about rural areas rather lacking in vision. We have coined a slogan that “Hela Sverige ska leva” (roughly “All of Sweden shall thrive”), but we need to decide how. What is it we want? One critical question is whether politicians can or should do something about urbanisation and the concentration of the population into urban areas. Personally, I think that the government should use policy instruments to make it possible for people to live in the countryside, and build up vibrant communities, even in places where few people live.”

Visitor commitment

Rural areas as global locations is one vision mentioned in the book. Asylum-seekers are often initially located in such areas. As they become more established in Swedish society, many move away, into urban areas.
“The municipalities often attempt to retain them, but it can be completely natural that they move. Maybe the sparsely populated municipalities should see themselves as an initial stopping point, and be satisfied with becoming experts in giving the newly arrived a truly positive start. Just as university towns in the same manner are often places that students pass through on their way to somewhere else”, says Josefina Syssner.
Another vision is the countryside as a place for visitors. Many visitors have some form of attachment to the area, such as a holiday cottage there. These people are usually both financially well-to-do and committed to the region.

Local craftspeople

“The devotion of local craftspeople can be used in several ways. In Norway, for example, this group is brought into different projects, such as investing in a museum of country life or other meeting place. The owners of holiday properties are also actively encouraged to employ local craftspeople, to bind employment opportunities and financial gain to the area.
Urbanisation is occurring throughout the world, and the countryside is in a totally different situation today from that 30-40 years ago”, concludes Josefina Syssner.
“We’re just going to have to deal with this.”
The book is the result of a symposium discussing the development of rural areas arranged in the spring of 2018 by the foundation Vadstena Forum för samhällsbyggande (“The Vadstena Forum for Planning”).

Translated by George Farrants

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