Behind the Picture Postcard Image
Many holiday makers enjoy the serenity of country life.They are also excited about the beauty of the villages and small towns they visited. But what they fail to add is that behind the postcard image lies the reality of the abandonment of entire territories.This is the case in many European countries, such as Italy, Portugal, Spain, France or Germany.The heart of the problem is the depopulation of rural areas. But it must be stressed that this is not a new phenomenon, but it has accelerated since the 1980's. Projections based on European Commission figures suggest up to 22% of people in rural France, Spain and Portugal are elderly retired. The attraction of big urban centres can be explained by easier access to jobs for the youth, to schools for the children and to healthcare structures for the entire population. In contrast, villages and small cities are facing an inexorable decline in public services, retail trade and health structures. But this feeling of abandonment and social exclusion goes up even in medium-sized cities. A vast majority of studies indicate that rural depopulation is set to accelerate, and not only in Europe. Italy provides a telling example in this regard: there are about 6,000 ghost towns nationwide (Fig.Anglia Ruskin).And entire villages which have been abandoned long ago by their inhabitants are up for sale in particular in France and Southern Europe.Yet, the efforts on finding ways to combat this phenomenon could appear to be an impossible mission. New immigrants from other European countries or from around the globe will also inevitably be attracted by the largest urban centres. In fact we must admit that there will be no simple solution to tackle this complex issue.