April 10, 2013
The urban – rural divide
With over 80% of the population living in Scotland’s urban areas, but with over 90% of the country’s land mass defined as rural, an interesting tension is created as to where the balance of national interest lies. This presumably explains in part why the SNP manifesto included a commitment to establish a Rural Parliament – to provide rural communities with a stronger voice on the national stage. While the momentum for that idea looks to have stalled, the debate about this rural/urban divide rumbles on.
In Scotland at least, rural areas are politically ‘soft’. It’s a critical mass thing – we simply don’t have enough bums on seats to bring in the big guns. Market-based approaches don’t give the necessary returns and publically-funded initiatives don’t justify a particularly high level of investment when you’re lucky to have a population density of a third of the national average.
Don’t get me wrong, there are rural investments and there are rural initiatives, but they tend to be sectoral – you can run a project for older people or younger people or business people or just about any other ‘people’ you care to mention. But it’s a hard sell to persuade those holding the purse strings that rural areas deserve an integrated, holistic approach, an approach based on geographies rather than targeted bits of the population. This piecemeal approach to rural development gradually undermines the sustainability of rural geographies and chips away at our understanding of geographical identity and belonging. As a result of this, power and money and skills and resources have haemorrhaged away from rural communities over the decades, to be only partly replaced by the energies and aesthetic of a legion of culturally creative incomers.
By contrast, investment and funding seemingly pours into urban communities, especially those in multiple deprivation, layer upon layer of initiative and innovation delivering ‘outputs’ and ‘outcomes’ and ‘metrics’ and endless reports and evaluations. Hopefully, along the way, a little seeps through to improve the lives of those people actually living in the communities, not just the project worker’s salary grade.
Does this sound like sour grapes? It isn’t, honest. Just an irritation that we continue to use an outdated ‘development through growth’ paradigm that sees urban and rural areas as separate and in competition with each other for resources and that each new batch of funding serves only to reinforce the separateness and the stereotypes each area holds for the other.
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