The so-called ‘urban-rural’ divide is often cited in the media, and in general conversation, but in any number of areas, cities are actively seeking partnerships with their surrounding rural areas.
This is particularly relevant right now, in light of the European Commission’s publication for a Rural Vision 2040 – a roadmap set to deliver more connected, prosperous and resilient rural communities.
Developing urban-rural partnerships is essential, not only to achieve this vision but to other EU goals, such as the European Green Deal. As we look to generate an equitable post-Covid19 recovery, developing the urban-rural relationship can also lead to a more balanced development across the territories of the EU.
“There are three main things to keep in mind,” says Pietro Reviglio, Policy Advisor on Governance at Eurocities, who has just authored a new paper on this very subject.
“Firstly, cities and metropolitan areas must be involved in the governance structures that will support the EU’s rural vision,” says Reviglio.
According to the European Commission’s own calculations, around 50% of the rural population of the EU lives close to a city – and often as part of wider metropolitan areas.
“With that in mind,” says Reviglio, “it’s absolutely necessary to better recognise this level of governance as an essential cog in the management of complex urban-rural relationships, such as via interventions in local food chains, or delivering essential services such as via the cohesive management of transport networks.
“Secondly,” continues Reviglio, “promoting a partnership approach between rural and urban areas will really boost the possibility for the EU to achieve its rural vision.”
There are many examples of how such partnerships can work. In Grenoble Alpes Metropole, for example, a new ‘mountain policy’ in 2015 led to the enlargement of the Metropole from 28 to 49 municipalities, many of which were small and mountainous. This expansion contributed to a change of perspective at the metropolitan level, which began to take into account specific issues concerning mountain territories.
A platform was quickly created with the surrounding Natural Regional Parks of Chartreuse, Belledonne and Vercors to develop common projects, such as ensuring greater sustainability for the wood industry, promoting metropolitan area tourism and public spaces to manage popular leisure areas, as well as joint management of ecological services — which resulted in cleaning one of the main rivers and water sources for the area.
“Thirdly,” Reviglio adds, “at EU level, one way to keep this ongoing rural-urban conversation in the spotlight could be via a dedicated platform where we could exchange on best practices.”
The paper suggests a structured EU dialogue could support the further development of these relationships at both political and technical levels as well as using existing EU funds to promote cohesive development at the metropolitan level.
“Life in cities, suburbs and their surrounding rural areas increasingly overlap, and as such many people and urban administrations feel an increasing sense of connection, rather than separation with shared goals, and, we hope, a shared vision,” concludes Reviglio.