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RELOCAL on EU Regions Week – Shrinking Rural Regions and Spatial Justice

RELOCAL half-day session at the DG Regio Cities and Regions “Open Days” with the ESPON ESCAPE project

The session focused on shrinking rural areas, and how to meet their needs. It was organised jointly with the ESPON ESCAPE project, which explores the concepts of simple (demographic) and complex (economic and social) shrinkage in their various manifestations across European space. It takes a look at policy approaches, both conventional mitigation (to reverse decline) and adaptation (maximising wellbeing despite decline).

The workshop was opened by Petri Kahila, introducing the two projects, and stressing the importance of the topic in the context of cohesion and rural development policy after 2020.  


Andrew Copus from the James Hutton Institute followed the session with the presentation about “What do we mean by “shrinking” and how widespread is this across Rural Europe?” It considered the definitions of simple (demographic), and complex (economic and social) shrinkage, and their spatial distribution across Europe. Around two-thirds of the population of Predominantly Rural and Intermediate NUTS 3 Regions has recently been shrinking, is currently shrinking, or is forecast to shrink in future. Different parts of Europe exhibit different kinds of shrinking.


Thomas Dax (BAB Vienna) presented “Mitigation and adaptation as the basis for intervention logics to address simple and complex shrinking in rural areas”, showing how “levers” vary according to the type of shrinking process. It is important to acknowledge that age structure legacy effects often limit the potential for mitigation, and that adaptation is a more realistic response. This can take a variety of forms, such as “smart shrinking”.

Finally, Sabine Weck, from ILS Dortmund, presented “Spatial justice as experienced by shrinking rural regions”, as illustrated by RELOCAL case studies. Place-based or community-based development actions can improve living conditions and promoting more balanced and sustainable development in shrinking rural regions. More localised, place-based actions enable better access to substantive needs and a better distribution of resources and opportunities, or promote democratic participation. The presentation considers, in particular, insights on the potentials linked with digitalisation.

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