Whether it’s for work, life, cultural visits, recreation or education, we often hop between the city and the countryside.
While people are moving, commuting for work or school, buying their groceries at a farm shop, spending their holiday or walking a klompenpad (a scenic route), money, goods, services, information, and knowledge are also flowing back and forth.
In addition, cities and countryside are physically getting closer as a result of urban growth and rural urbanisation. “All together this changes the way people distinguish between, and think about, the city and countryside,” says Jessica Duncan, rural sociologist at Wageningen University & Research (WUR). What doesn't change is that we have trouble thinking about one, without relating it to the other. As if we need the idea of the countryside as an opposite, and vice versa.
The policies of governments and organisations however insufficiently recognize the links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas. Policy tends to focus either on cities or the countryside. This in turn ignores many cultural, economic and environmental opportunities. Thinking in terms of cohesion and mutual dependence, and the integration of policies, can strengthen local communities.
Wageningen is leading a large European research project called Robust, which aims at joint sustainable urban and rural development. The researchers first survey the interactions and dependency relations between cities and the countryside. Next, they consider how policies can become more coherent. "So we will be looking at what distinguishes the cities and the countryside, what the common interests are, where the tensions are and whether there are trade-offs," explains Duncan, who is involved in the project.
"The city is often awarded a modern value, whereas the countryside is commonly seen as traditional,” Duncan continues. “But that distinction is no longer tenable. When the strong links between town and countryside are considered, society as a whole can benefit from decision making on for example cultural facilities, public transport, fibre-optic networks, food systems and tourism opportunities.”
The researchers want to provide concrete examples of place-based approaches that effectively identify synergies between rural and urban knowledge and resources. "This can enable people and policy makers to successfully influence their environment and make communities stronger," says Duncan.
This approach avoids a one-size fits all model while also recognizing that places are interconnected and boundaries are much more fluid than they appear on maps or by municipal borders. It also means regions are thought about as processes that are dynamic, as our communities are, rather than static. A key example of a place-based approaches is seen in local food policies.
In eleven European areas residents, local businesses, organisations and policy makers will jointly develop and test solutions in so-called Living Labs and Communities of Practice. More specifically they will focus on the interrelationships and dependence between urban and rural areas in the areas of businesses and labour markets, infrastructure and social services, sustainable food systems, cultural ties, and ecosystem services.
In the Netherlands the municipality of Ede is involved. Looking at its geographical size, Ede is one of the largest municipalities in the Netherlands. With the town of Ede at its core, this municipality contains a large rural area with several villages and neighbourhoods.