Vital Countryside

The countryside is reinventing itself thanks to the corona pandemic and has the prospect of a new future, in which more and more urban dwellers move to the countryside, where they work from home. . The countryside is already popular with starting internet entrepreneurs and SMEs. Young people in various European countries are also moving, often for financial reasons, to demographic shrinking areas, where house prices and the cost of living are still manageable. So on to urbanization and e-towns. In this lecture, trends and opportunities for rural areas are mapped out.

Regions are increasingly profiling themselves on the basis of their own specific strengths. Regions generally like to associate with other regions, but nations cherish their sovereignty and seclusion. But they only have a future if they deal well with bottom-up dynamics of the new world.

Many urban regions are already heavyweights within national economies – think of our brainport Eindhoven, the port city of Rotterdam or the creative capital Amsterdam. Cities are hubs of economic activity and because the economy is leading in this world, urban regions increasingly determine our course, also in a national sense.

Cities are in need of innovation and progress, even as rural regions are catching up as citizens there are increasingly connected to the rest of the world via broadband.

As a starting entrepreneur, you can now hire as much computer memory and computing capacity in the cloud as you want from a barn with a broadband connection, so to speak, and do what a few years ago only large companies could do.

Think big data analysis. You no longer have to live in a big city or work for a large company to get started. Moreover, the countryside has quite a lot of economic activity. Think of agriculture and horticulture, a sector that guarantees about 10 percent of the Dutch economy, or of energy generation or tourism.

Local governments are gaining more and more power at the expense of national governments. Since 2015, important central government tasks within the social domain have already been transferred to the municipalities. This decentralization has taken place because municipalities are closer to the citizen and can perform the tasks more effectively, with less bureaucracy and therefore cheaper. The municipality is therefore the first government.

In the future, more central government tasks will be decentralized. Certainly if government revenues fall by 30 to 50 percent in the next ten years, as is expected. In fact, the Swiss democratic system is ideal, with much more direct influence from citizens and local communities who more or less govern themselves, of course within the framework of national legislation.

This ideal fits with the bottom-up character of our time, in which citizens increasingly decide and undertake for themselves. No less than 86 percent of our land is undeveloped and belongs to the countryside. The cost of living is a lot lower than in the big city, which is an important factor in this time of saving.

The costs of commercial spaces are also much lower in rural areas. In the big city, it is often difficult to afford these for starting entrepreneurs, while in the countryside a lot of space is becoming available – think of barns that become vacant. Many rural regions are reinventing themselves. With food&agro as the engine, because: poor in the stable, poor everywhere.

In a country like Spain, with its high youth unemployment, the migration to the countryside is already a real trend, which is called rurbanisation. You can now also see this kind of rurbanization in our country, for example in the province of Zeeland.

Small is the new big. And demography is crucial: peace and space become more valuable in an overpopulated world. In terms of online power, rural towns are apparently becoming very attractive locations for entrepreneurs: E-towns.

The countryside will also be increasingly divided into economic specialisms through zoning plans. Some areas will remain agriculturally oriented, but others will become a tourist destination or an energy destination. Municipalities must make clear choices. Administrative power must be increased. So we don’t necessarily need larger municipalities, but more powerful regions. With the right investments and drivers with guts, the countryside will get there.

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