Rural Development Policy
At the moment, it is not clear whether more people live in the world’s rural areas or in the towns and cities. The UN’s Habitat agency estimates that in 2008 the urban population became the majority and by 2020, 60% of us will live in urban settlements. This means that dealing with large-scale and rapid urbanisation has become one of the key contemporary questions for development policy. In some parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa, the pace that mega cities have grown, especially in, has appeared to overwhelm the power of the state. Many of the new agglomerations are characterised by too few jobs, no proper housing, infrastructure or functioning public services. Mega cities have produced mega slums with all the attendant problems of poverty, crime and early death.
The condition of rural areas has for a long time been tied to the opportunities of the city. Where there are insufficient income opportunities, where the physical environment is poor, then the choice for many, particularly young people, appears to be to leave for good. Such changes of course can critically weaken the viability of many rural settlements. However, it is possible to see connections between rural and urban areas as enduring and not always as zero-sum game in which the countryside loses. There are good reasons for focusing on the nature of social and economic connections between the two.
As a case study of the topic, this course looks at the conditions for rural development in the former socialist countries of central, eastern and southern Europe. Many of the questions that confront these places are also common to other parts of the world – the mobility and migration question, the management of natural resources and the relations between public and private property rights, the delivery of decent public services as a means of ensuring stability and growth and the connection between the dominant economic sector – agriculture - and its related sectors up and downstream. Within Europe, there is an increasing recognition that rural development policy is more than simply the maintenance of farming. Policy for supporting a viable countryside requires proper analysis of all those major forces influencing rural development. It involves integrating knowledge of economic growth with appreciation of the role of public policy in promoting alternative directions. It requires taking into account not only the distinct nature of rural life but the ways in which this is constantly changing.