Nordregio Researcher Director Karen Refsgaard and Research Fellow Alberto Giacometti talked in a podcast organised by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ office in Estonia. The discussion tried to identify whether the urbanisation trend may be reaching a tipping point as new opportunities for rural areas arise from the increasingly flexible labour markets and the transition towards the green economy.
With the rural population in steady decline, politicians and public administrations are grappling with making rural areas more attractive places for people to live and work. But is that even something we need to be doing? The new podcast focuses on the plusses and minuses of living in the countryside and debates whether urbanisation is a problem that needs solving.
“Among other issues, one argument discussed was that being rich in biological resources, rural areas can play an important role in driving the green transition. However, the need for close collaboration amongst local actors and effective policy was highlighted as key conditions to enable value creation in rural areas. Otherwise, we will reinforce the existing urban-rural dynamics, where rural areas are mere primary producers whilst added value occurs in processing plants at the urban fringe and retail companies typically based in cities,” says Alberto Giacometti, who specialises in regional development, governance and planning processes.
Although many romanticise the idea of living in rural areas, many challenges stop people from taking the initiative. “One of the biggest concerns for young people is whether there will be a job and a steady income,” said a pod guest, Tanel Tang, a young Estonian entrepreneur who recently moved to rural areas and started an organic egg farm. According to Tanel, another challenge to move to rural areas is that “you need to be wealthier than the average person because you need to renovate an old house and bring in all the comfort cities offer, but banks do not give you loans because it is high risk”.
The podcast was hosted by Olavi Petron, the Rural Affairs Policy and Analysis Department director at the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs. It is the sixth in the English-language ‘Sustainable Nordic Economic’ series, which looks at what sustainable economic systems are based on and what role the circular economy and bioeconomy play in this.