Advancing urban boundaries are casting a shadow over rural areas. In her inaugural address at Wageningen University & Research on 25 October, Bettina Bock, professor of Inclusive Rural Development, will discuss how economic policy is concentrated on areas of high density, such as the Randstad (a megalopolis with the Netherlands’ biggest cities), but also how at the same time, this has led to the particular marginalisation of peripheral areas.
Prof. Bock is a proponent of developing a relational perspective on rural development, in which the dynamic of changing relationships between urban and rural areas is the focus.
The concentration of knowledge, highly educated employees, and infrastructure in regions such as the Randstad are accompanied by the marginalisation of peripheral areas. As such, the success of the city and the marginalisation of the countryside go hand in hand. For example, investments into infrastructure in the Randstad take precedence over creating connections with Germany, which would benefit the Eindhoven area. “Policy programmes such as the ‘agenda city’ cause investments to be concentrated in certain urban environments, because they are considered to be the driving forces behind the national economy. Investments into other parts of the country continue to fall further behind as a result, solidifying their peripheral character,” says Prof. Bock in her inaugural lecture, 'Rural futures – inclusive rural development in times of urbanisation'.
Every region is different
The phenomenon of urban growth is not the same in all regions. Geographical location and infrastructural accessibility play a role in how valuable and important certain areas are deemed to be. For instance, rural areas near the city may also benefit from their proximity to a dense population of consumers. Accessibility is less of an issue here. In contrast, areas adjacent to urban centres may be easily absorbed into the cities themselves through expansion plans for new construction, etc. The outer boundaries of cities are making their way farther and farther from their centres. Alkmaar is now at the edge of Amsterdam. The areas in between are urbanising and in turn, losing elements of their identity. Other, more geographically remote regions are developing strong relationships with cities, because they wish to be seen as desirable tourist locations. Tourism generates turnover and stimulates investment into accessibility and infrastructural connections.
Some areas are becoming progressively more peripheral: politics and social economic distance are growing. “The relationships in these areas are less established; they are more distant. In these terms, the distance from Amsterdam to Leeuwarden is much greater than the other way around. Furthermore, these areas are literally becoming less accessible,” says Prof. Bock.
No longer relying on the strength of a marginalised area
The experience in many areas is that urbanisation leads to a decrease in population and that it negatively impacts the composition of the population. It is often young people and the highly educated that are drawn to large cities, because that is where they can find what they are looking for: higher education and good jobs.
The decline in population also goes hand in hand with a threat to the availability of essential facilities, such as education, healthcare, and transportation. This puts pressure on the quality of life in these regions. Furthermore, this also has its drawbacks at the national level: a decrease in spatial equality results in societal unrest and polarisation as well as a decline in social connectedness.
"The existing motto of, ‘an area must develop itself based on its own strength,’ no longer applies,” says Prof. Bock. “We need to take a different approach to thinking about developments in rural areas. This density-focused way of thinking is a policy of sabotage. Growth and decline have to be viewed as a whole."
Prof. Bock studied Agrarian Sociology of the Western Countries at Wageningen and has been working there since 1996. She is also a professor holding an endowed chair in Population Decline and Quality of Life in the Northern Netherlands, and is a member of the Wetenschappelijke Reflectiegroep Bevolkingsdaling (academic reflection group on population decline), which advises the Ministry of the Interior.