Nordic Talks: The rural way
When Covid-19 hit countries with lockdowns and foreign travel restrictions, rural areas suddenly got overwhelmed with visitors who overpowered the infrastructure. On the other side, people got more open-minded about rural living, more aware of the potential mental and physical health benefits, as well as more sustainable lifestyles. All these changes and benefits were discussed in the newest Nordic Talks podcast hosted by Nordregio, CoDel and the University of Limerick. Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio and head of the Nordic Thematic Group on Green Inclusive Rural Regional Development Anna Karlsdóttir, together with other researchers from Scotland and Ireland, shared her insights on how rural communities in the Nordics and around the world turned the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity. According to Karlsdóttir, rural and remote areas have received much more interest as touristic places which could be both advantages and disadvantages for the locals. “Sustainable tourism development needs to balance between being a good place to live for inhabitants and a good place to visit. It is hard to connect sustainable well-balanced community development with the well-being of the inhabitants along with the tourism development,” says the researcher. Speakers also discussed how we can develop thriving, but still sustainable rural areas over the coming decades. This Nordic Talks event was organized by the University of Limerick in Ireland, Nordregio in Sweden, and CoDel in the United Kingdom.
Rediscovering the assets of rural areas
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the public attitude toward the rural areas has significantly changed. Peripheries became a refuge for maintaining health, wellbeing, strengthening community ties and local economies. This was clearly highlighted by experts from the Nordic and North Atlantic research organisations in the Nordic Talks discussion hosted by Nordregio. The word “peripherality” is often associated with negative meanings, e.g. under-developed, slow, backward and remote. However, as the study “COVID-19 Economic Impacts & Recovery in the Northern Periphery & Arctic” suggests, the pandemic has challenged the way many see rural and peripheral regions and revealed peripheral factors that have been advantages in the crisis. Well-being and resilient places during the crisis “We have seen for the first time in many years that population is coming back to rural areas for a lot of different reasons. Covid-19 has accelerated that because of the huge amount of extra flexibility in terms of work practices – where people might live and work, how they can combine commuting and working from home,” says Liam Glynn, a practicing GP (community doctor) in an Irish village of just over 250 people, and also Professor of General Practice, School of Medicine at Limerick University, Ireland, and lead partner for the CovidWatch-EU-NPA project. Some factors that define peripherality, such as close-knit communities, adaptation to the challenges of remoteness and pluralistic life and work patterns, have helped peripheral communities to respond more effectively to Covid-19. As Liam Glynn pointed out during the discussion, this response had more positive effects on the health and local economies of rural areas than of many urban centres. Peripherality has demonstrated its resilience factor for local economies. Rural communities have noticed, that many are seeking to move to rural or remote areas as good places to live in. “Our research across the Nordic periphery…
Nordregio at the Nordic Symposium on Tourism and Hospitality Research
Nordregio Research Fellows Anna Karlsdóttir and Ágúst Bogason will participate in the 29th Nordic Symposium on Tourism and Hospitality Research. Called “Shaping mobile futures: Challenges and possibilities in precarious times’ this year’s conference focuses on finding ways out of the vicious circle of irresponsible production and consumption while also moving towards a more sustainable future for tourism. Finding tools and methods needed to manage this tourism in an ever-changing world is another main aim of the event. The Nordregio Research Fellows will facilitate and lead several sessions, Anna Karlsdóttir being in charge of the ‘The importance of slow food and what it means for gastro tourism and slow travels’ session. Ágúst Bogason will present Nordregio’s and CRT’s research on Sustainable Tourism Planning at a session named “Methods measuring sustainability effects of tourism development for benefit of local communities and rural areas”. “Few sectors have been impacted more by the ongoing pandemic than the tourism sector. International travel almost came to a full stop and the entire chain in the tourism sector has been affected. A few rural places have experienced their best seasons yet because of increased domestic travel during the pandemic, while the traditionally more visited destinations and regions have been hard hit. As the world is slowly opening up again, the question remains how tourism will develop in the coming years?” says Ágúst Bogason. According to the researcher, many people feel the longing to travel freely again, and all tourism-related businesses eagerly await the arrival of visitors. But going ‘back to normal’ is not an option from a climate perspective. There are, therefore, many challenges as well as opportunities for the tourism sector of tomorrow. And research on the subject must play a pivotal role for the tourism sector to develop more sustainably. During the conference, Nordregio’s partners at CRT (Centre for Regional…
Second-home population needs more attention in Nordic policy and spatial planning
About half the population of the Nordics has access to second-homes and use them during the summer or winter seasons and weekends. Regular retreats to rural areas by people from the towns and cities have an impact on small towns and municipalities. But it is lacking attention in policy and spatial planning. These and other issues facing small towns are analysed in a recently published book “The Routledge Handbook of Small Towns”. Nordregio Senior Research Fellow Dr. Elin Slätmo has contributed with a chapter about urban-rural integration through second-homes. The chapter ”Urban–Rural Linkages” is based on an analysis of Nordic statistics and qualitative fieldwork in five Nordic municipalities. It seeks to investigate if and how second homes and seasonal tourism are being embraced as part of the Nordic spatial planning and policy agenda. It also looks at the implications of second homes and seasonal tourism for urban–rural integration throughout the Nordic region. “There are several ongoing processes that enforce the urban-rural blurring when focusing on second homes in the Nordic countries. The dynamic between the urban and rural is continuously created by activities such as multilocality and mobility towards second homes,” says Dr. E. Slätmo. According to the researcher, it is crucial to actively include the second-home population into local policy and planning. Because these people are using infrastructure and services in the areas they inhabit, and they contribute to the local economy and social life in rural areas. But the variability of the population due to second-home usage or tourism is still largely ignored in policy and spatial planning in the Nordic countries. The book also addresses issues related to the development of small towns and their role for regional growth in different countries. Read the chapter here. The book is available here.
Why is Nordic co-operation struggling during the pandemic?
Insights on Covid-19 impacts from the perspectives of cross-border communities During Covid-19, free movement of people and services, and trade across borders has been drastically disrupted. Despite existing co-operation agreements, the Nordic countries took uncoordinated actions to protect themselves. Border closures have heavily affected lives in border communities. How could Nordic co-operation recover after the pandemic by integrating the resilience approach and focusing on cross-border communities? Nordregio – Nordic Institute for Regional Development – launches a report that gives an overview of the situation in Nordic border communities following border closures. Results point to the need for a quick recovery and re-engagement in the Nordic Vision 2030, which states that the Nordic Region is to be the most sustainable and integrated region in the world. Fragility of border communities and Nordic co-operation Since the introduction of the Nordic Passport Union in 1954, long before the establishment of the Schengen Area, Nordic citizens could travel without passports and reside freely in any Nordic country. Virtually borderless societies established strong connections with neighbouring countries. This allowed people to easily access goods, services and larger labour markets across Nordic countries. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries took unilateral actions to protect themselves, moving away from the Nordic Vision. Since then, border closures inflicted significant social, economic and political impact on the border regions: ‘Hard‘ borders re-emerged and border guards were deployed to stop border crossings. Border closures separated families and friends, and disrupted access to work, education and basic services. The closed Svinesund bridge connecting Sweden and Norway and a fence erected in the middle of Victoria Square between Haparanda and Tornio (Sweden-Finland) created a shock reaction in the communities which haven‘t experienced anything like it since World War II. Great economic losses resulted from a sudden absence of border shoppers…
During 2017-2020, what did we learn about sustainable rural development?
Each Nordic country is different, but also similar. The similarities make it possible to learn from one another, and differences highlight the meaning and uniqueness of creative local solutions. Nordic cooperation is generally considered to be an extremely important asset when working with rural development. This storymap summarizes the work of the Nordic Thematic Group on Sustainable Rural Development 2017-2020 (TG1). What did we learn? VISIT STORYMAP