Where city meets countryside

8 July 2021

Cities and rural areas are interconnected, through food supply chains, for jobs, commerce, innovation, and the delivery of critical services.

To achieve the ambitions of the European Green Deal, and meet other international agendas, it’s implicit on cities to work more broadly within their functional urban area.

As we begin to embark upon the ‘new normal’ post-Covid we can expect changes to the pattern of daily living, working, consuming.

The pandemic has affected how we move around, where we work, and inspired new preferences for leisure and tourism. Some of this has simply accelerated what was already on its way, such as bringing forward the rate of digital transition, but all of it deserves a response from policy makers across the board.

In light of the recent European Commission Communication on the rural long term Vision 2040, Eurocities is putting together an initial response that calls for better collaboration between urban and rural areas, which would create a win-win for all.

An Increasing urban-rural overlap

Although Eurocities notes that life in cities, suburbs and surrounding communities increasingly overlap, a concern is that this is not recognised in the Communication, which risks further embedding an urban-rural divide.

“Given that the European Green Deal is really the flagship political initiative of this European Commission, this vision should go a lot further to make this possible,” commented Peter Austin, Planning Advisor at the Oslo City Office, and lead author of the forthcoming Eurocities paper on urban and rural cooperation. “A vision for rural areas should embrace their connections with urban communities, and vice-versa. Commuting, trade-flows, services and culture are already the life-blood of functional areas, for the towns, villages and suburbs that surround the cities. We have also seen cases where the scope of rural-urban cooperation has been widened to the circular economy, or even affordable housing,” he added.

Urban-rural cooperation benefits EU

“Cooperation between cities, towns and their surrounding areas can only benefit the EU in terms of delivering on its goals for regional development,” said Pietro Reviglio, Policy Officer on Urban Governance at Eurocities. “That’s why it’s incumbent upon us as local administrations to work together, including by promoting urban-rural linkages. Without this positive cooperation at local level, the impact of European frameworks, such as the European Green Deal and New Leipzig Charter will not be delivered to their fullest capacity. The same is true for the Rural Vision 2040 and the Territorial Agenda 2030,” added Reviglio.

Many cities are working to promote a more balanced territorial development that promotes urban-rural cooperation. Turin, for example, supports this cooperation daily in the implementation of its ‘Metropolitan Food Strategy’ aimed at developing a shortened supply chain by making use of its public procurement to source food locally, as well as favouring trading relationships that connect producers and consumers via local food markets.

Working at the level of the metropolitan area like this is a real game changer for food policy, because it allows for a much more nuanced approach. This became even clearer in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the food supply chain was disrupted and the activities in support of food supply at the metropolitan level proved essential.

Despite its growing recognition, food is only one example of the closer urban-rural cooperation happening throughout Europe. Many municipalities cooperate at metropolitan level to deliver more efficient and inclusive mobility services, for example, which has a positive impact on people’s jobs, access to health services, and much more besides.

Common challenges

For many cities, this experience suggests that a long term commitment from all political levels is necessary to build urban-rural cooperation. Among other things, Eurocities response to the European Commission Communication highlights that cities no longer feel separate to their rural environs, but increasingly understand the need to work together on common challenges.

“This debate, now opened by the European Commission is an opportunity not only to reflect on how rural areas will look in 2040, but should also be broadened to look at how rural and urban communities are both interdependent and complimentary. We can all achieve more by coordinating our efforts, rather than competing,” concluded Austin.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer