7 mins

The pandemic may help us re-discover places that were left behind

João Ferrão is a research professor at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon, former Secretary of State for Spatial Planning and Cities (2005-2009) and former Dean of the University of Lisbon for society and local communities (2013-2017). He was national coordinator of several international research projects and networks (European Commission and European Science Foundation).

For those who work with him, João Ferrão is a free thinker about territorial strategies, but also the man "on the ground", the geographer who communicates directly with people.

In a time of change, TeritoriALL noted his thoughts about the challenges of the territorial agenda.

The motto of the ESPON seminar is Green and Just recovery. Can we say that smart economy means using these factors intelligently in favour of territorial resilience, cohesion and development?

The EU advocates a transition towards a place-based circular and carbon/climate-neutral economic model. This is a crucial endeavour. Yet, a "smart" economy requires more than this. It is an economy that recovers the original meaning of the Greek word oîkos (house, household), knowing that in an increasing globalised world our home is the Earth. It is an economy that favours objectives such as territorial resilience, cohesion and sustainable development. It is an economy that is sufficient in terms of production, decent in terms of labour, and wise in terms of consuming resources. The smartness of an economy lies in its purposes, in the way it operates, in what makes it meaningful and lively.

What is the influence of the breaking of the hypermobility paradigm on territorial organization and mobility?

The pandemic, by halting or hindering the prevailing patterns of people and goods hypermobility, had direct consequences: the spread of remote working, greater emphasis on short supply chains, the proliferation of and B2C e-commerce solutions, the increased role of urban micro logistics, etc. All these solutions already existed; however, they have undergone a major acceleration. What is new is their combined effect and the awareness that neighbourhoods, cities, regions and countries can become more self-reliant while remaining open to other spaces and to the world at large. The interrelationships between the geography of places, the geography of physical circulation and the different virtual geographies are changing. The challenge is to know how to stimulate mutually advantageous relationships between these various geographies for the benefit of all, and not only of those who have the required skills.

Do you believe that the "return to the land" can also bring a new look to rural areas?

The pandemic period brought new perceptions, favouring areas with lower population density, greater proximity to nature, better environment, quietness and pleasant public spaces. As a result, the demand for housing in peri-urban areas and in medium-sized and small cities increased, and tourism demand intensified in rural areas with low population density. A positive context has thus emerged for these different areas to the detriment of large cities. But residential mobility in Portugal is low for two main reasons: the high percentage of families with bank loans for house purchase and the low rate of new job creation in small towns and remote rural areas. In addition, in recent years public services (health, education, post office, etc.) have been closed in rural areas with low demographic dynamism, which have thus become less attractive, and the percentage of people in remote work, although growing, is still relatively low. It is likely that peri-urban areas with environmental and landscape quality and medium-sized cities with good accessibility will become more attractive as a consequence of the pandemic. But it is very unlikely that rural areas and small cities in demographic and economic loss will be able to benefit from this cycle of new perceptions about areas that seem less exposed to the effects of external risks such as pandemics.

How can we make the pandemic experience an instrument of territorial cohesion, where All places matter?

All places matter but, according to citizens' perceptions, some matter more than others and the capacity of local, regional and national policies to reverse this situation is rather limited. Portugal still has a generation of urban residents who maintain close ties with the birthplaces of their parents. The pandemic may act as a powerful factor in 'rediscovering' the value of places that have been left behind due to lack of opportunities, in particular job opportunities, and which have become recorded in the memory of those families as places that are pleasant to spend holidays in but not to live in. The effective use of the potential of all places must, therefore, be a challenge for everyone: central government, local authorities, families, NGOs and businesses.

“All places matter but, according to citizens' perceptions, some matter more than others and the capacity of local, regional and national policies to reverse this situation is rather limited.”

What is the role of medium-sized cities in darning the links between met ropolit an areas and rural areas?

Medium-sized cities do not necessarily have to play an intermediation role between metropolitan and rural areas. Given the consumer markets they represent, the labour force they account for, the qualified facilities they have and the specialised services they provide, the main geostrategic mission of medium-sized cities is to leverage urban-rural systems at regional level. At the same time, they should gain scale by organising themselves into networks with other medium-sized cities, forming lasting regional, national, cross-border or transnational partnerships around a selected number of themes or problems. The relationship of medium-sized cities with metropolitan areas is complex, volatile and largely uncontrollable. The increasing functional integration of medium-sized cities into a metropolitan system has positive, but also perverse consequences. The outcomes of this integration will depend on the asymmetrical interactions between the two parties involved. This is why ensuring an adequate degree of both interaction and relative autonomy is key. A medium-sized city overly dependent on interactions with a metropolis will have a subordinate development. A medium-sized city with few interactions with a metropolis will tend to a marginal position.

“it is no longer enough to develop effective and efficient solutions. The pandemic, is a very clear warning that structural changes are needed in today's societies and economies”

The issues of food security, the proximity of services and the autonomy and sustainability of supply chains have come to the center of the debate. Is this a result of the pandemic or has it just highlighted its relevance?

The pandemic brought visibility and acceleration to already existing trends. What is new is the social and political recognition of the importance of some of these trends, the resulting redefinition of policy priorities, and the combined offer of solutions that were previously developed in a fragmented manner in space and on a case-by-case basis over time. The elements of the political agenda are not necessarily new, but the agenda is new in terms of its main goals and modes of governance. The concepts of transition and transformation become increasingly prominent. This suggests that it is no longer enough to develop effective and efficient solutions. The pandemic, like all other global systemic risks (financial crises, climate change, severe loss of biodiversity, etc.), is a very clear warning that structural changes are needed in today's societies and economies.

What can be done to transform expressions such as bottom-up and territorial governance into actions based on the effective participation of citizens in the development of their territories?

The pandemic and the multiple discourses that it has generated reveal the importance of scientific knowledge and the urgent need to make this knowledge understandable to ordinary citizens. On the other hand, the pandemic coincided with a period where different forms of resentment by groups and communities who felt abandoned found an echo in populist and xenophobic discourses. Participatory planning was developed as a way to avoid overly technocratic forms of intervention by public authorities that citizens did not understand and therefore did not accept. Giving people a voice and listening are basic requirements of a mature democracy. Yet participation must cover all stages of the policy cycle: agenda-setting, proposal-making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. This will only be possible if there is information available that is understandable by ordinary citizens and if those citizens are proactively included in decision-making processes. It is from the everyday life of ordinary citizens that fairer and more inclusive territories are built, appreciated and better appropriated.

Maria João Rocha is communication advisor for Directorate General of Territory in Portugal

This article appears in Rural areas: an eye to the future

Go to Page View
This article appears in...
Rural areas: an eye to the future
Go to Page View
Wiktor Szydarowski, ESPON EGTC
The way into the future
The semester of the Portuguese Presidency of the
Now is the time for territorial, smart and ambitious investments!
Elisa Ferreira Europe's response to the crisis is
Thematic dossier
A Long Term Vision for Rural Areas to turn changes into opportunities
A new pathway is emerging for the prosperous future of rural areas
Fatima Bacharel Andreea China Rural areas:
The EU cohesion policy needs a universal basic income
Nowadays, the environment is a priority in the
Rural areas are entitled to the EU's cohesion and crisis response
Rural areas not only represent the smallest building
The future of Europe will depend on how we deal with rural areas
Peter Schmidt Stefano Palmieri The EU enjoys incredible
CAP reform and a Green Deal: an unmissable opportunity to promote agroecological practices
Guillaume Cros The Occitanie region is
How to harness the potential of rural areas to m ake them suitable places for innovation opportunities?
' Eugenio Giani In her speech during
Which future do you want for rural areas?
Marion Eckardt Last year, the European LEADER
Taking action to spur growth in French rural areas: the rural agenda
Marie-Lorraine Dangeard The Territorial Agenda 2030 provides
Reinventing Scandinavian Mountains
Jan Edøy Erik Hagen Em pirical
Landscape transformation programme: An institutional innovation model
Miguel Freitas The new European forest strategy
Rural networking to build a Long Term Vision for Rural Areas
Enrique Nieto In early 2020, the President of
The pandemic may help us re-discover places that were left behind
João Ferrão is a research professor at the
Cit izens and territories should feel the im pact of NextGenerationEU funds
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Local
The macroregional strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian Region: a common vision, a shared mission
Mathilde Konstantopoulou Following the end of the
Why we need new evidence to better address the social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic
Nicolas Rossignol ESPON' s first attempt to
Older people’s interests in policymaking: a lesson from COVID-19?
Piera Petruzzi Member State governments have begun to
Development challenges for lake areas in the EU
Károly Fekete Éva Geletáné Varga
Leaping from a primary to a quaternary sector in a rural EU border area
Sandra Spule What are employment options for
Measuring the climate impact of spatial planning
Pauline Riordan Because of its broad reach,
Functional areas as emerging geographies: how to define and measure them
' Zintis Hermansons The understanding of different functional
Eco-clust er s as governance tools
Jacopo Riccardi Thijs Fikken Europe's urban-maritime
European Year of Rail 2021. Connecting places and people
Valeria Fedeli The year 2021 is the
Measuring digitalisation in regions and cities, matching the targets of the 2030 Digital Com pass
Anke Schuster Marek Bobiš The COVID-19 pandemic has
Driving and scaling-up innovation in cross-border digital healthcare from the demand side
Martin Gauk Angela Emidio The ESPON
Communicating Cohesion Policy on Planet Pandemia One year on
Image: Claudio Nichele Agnès Monfret Claudio Nichele Like
Communication in time of pandemics - INTERACT experience
Kevin Fulcher When COVID-19 arrived in Europe,
Interreg Europe communication during the COVID-19 pandemic
Petra Polaskova The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically
How to hold an international event when everybody is stuck in their homes?
Jenny Koutsomarkou Imagine the impact of the pandemic
Upcoming ESPON events Transnational Outreach
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, all events will
Territorial resilience: meaning and main implications for spatial planning
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across regions
Setting up the ESPON 2030 Program m e: heading towards the finish line
The last few months have been particularly intensive
Policy Brief on rural areas: More than just a publication
Fatima Bacharel Andreea China Since the
Outlook of the Slovenian presidency
Blanka Bartol TomaẐ Miklav Ḉ iḈ In
Looking for back issues?
Browse the Archive >

Previous Article Next Article
Rural areas: an eye to the future
Page 38