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AEIDL gathers the latest thinking on urban-rural relations and rural typologies

Mar 1, 2024 | News

What is “rural”? What is “urban”? How does people move around? Do administrative boundaries obscure complex territorial dynamics? These are key questions to address the future of EU rural and territorial development policies post 2027. To drive that agenda AEIDL has brought together the leading frontier applied research on this topic.

On 23rd February AEIDL, the European Association for Innovation in Local Development, organised the 2nd GRANULAR Knowledge Transfer webinar. The meeting brought together leading academic researchers, public servants and practitioners on this field from over 22 EU Member States, UK, Switzerland, Turkey and several African countries, serving as testament to the growing partnership with the RUSTIK project and with the leading work carried out by the EU Joint Research Centre. As further background to this meeting you can check  the Regional Studies Association Blog by AEIDL’s GRANULAR Project Manager Carla Lostrangio. 

Participants delved into the role of rural (multi)functionalities in offering an innovative perspective to characterising rural areas and understanding their diversitySerafin Pazos-Vidalour Senior Expert on Rural and Territorial Development, opened this online event by highlighting the crucial momentum of the discussion into the wider EU’s policy landscape and discussions on the post-2027 programming period. The High-Level Group on the Future of EU Cohesion Policy reported three days earlier that identifying spatially concentrated challenges and multiple dynamics is one of the key challenges for the future EU territorial development policies. 

Mats StjernbergNordregio, introduced the findings of the ‘Scoping report on rural typologies across Europe’ (2023), a comprehensive state-of-the-art of territorial typologies at EU-level and across 27 European regions. While being a simplification of the reality, rural typologies are used to support territorial analyses and policy planning at different levels. 

Henk OostindieWageningen University, presented how the notions of multi-spatiality and multi-functionalities can be integrated into a Rural Diversity Compass, currently prototyped by the GRANULAR partners. The primary goal of this Rural Diversity Compass is to describe rural diversity through four main functionalities (residential, productive, recreational, environmental) and 24 components. Additionally, this Rural Diversity Compass is a concrete tool to investigate how different functionalities interconnect and (might) produce imbalances in rural areas.  

Lewis Dijkstra, Joint Research Centre, provided an overview of the recently-developed EU’s definition for Functional Rural Areas (FRA). This definition, and its associated methodology aims to provide an analytical picture of rural territories and service provision. Functional Rural Areas are identified following five main rules and four iterative steps, and they can be visualised on the dedicated webpage hosted by the EU’s Rural Observatory.  Lewis was keen to insist that the purpose of this exercise is not to provide a new key to spatially target EU funds, but to highlight the complex dynamic that exist between urban and rural.

This set of interventions was concluded with the contribution of Francesco MantinoCouncil for Agricultural Research and Economics and author of the RUSTIK‘s report on “Methodological framework to define Functional Rural Areas and rural transitions”. As Mr. Mantino underscored, there is a need for a new definition of “rural” to be based on rural “functionalities”, neo-endogenous theories and the role of networks and connectivity beyond geographical proximity. Such a new definition should particularly address regional, geographical, and demographic disparities affecting rural areas.   

In a final round table, speakers reflected on how redefining ruralities can improve rural understanding and rural policy making. They convened that such redefinition could help move from the unclear box of “rural” towards a more adequate and multi-faceted, and indeed functional, picture of rural areas, accompanying each type of “rurality” with more nuanced and granular data. A better understanding of service provision, demographic trends or other similar patterns in rural areas might contribute to more adequately tackling rural needs and unleash opportunities in these territories.

Moving beyond “urban” or “rural”

A key conclusion of the meeting is that functionality-based approach should be tested to support rural characterisation, encompassing needs and trends analyses when it comes to basic services’ provision and territorial dynamics. Still, further discussion should address criteria towards the definition of an EU functional approach, and whether this definition should encompass move beyond the current distinction of “Functional Rural Areas” and “Functional Urban Areas” to rather talk about “Functional Areas” at large.

The recording of this webinar is available here. The event report and the presentations will be available here