Smart Rural Areas in the 21st Century
In his presentation Stefan Jensen (DG AGRI) highlighted the continued importance of the Smart Villages concept in addressing important challenges for rural areas and communities. Stefan stressed that Smart Villages should not necessarily be a new thing, new rules or standards, but the idea is about inspiration that should complement existing initiatives.
Franc Bogovic (MEP), one of the “founding fathers” of the Smart Villages initiative, stressed in his welcome speech that we are at the stage where we need to move from the experimental phase to real life implementation. Mr Bogovic also highlighted the important of including Smart Villages in both Pilar 1 and Pilar 2 of the CAP; as well as involving other policies in the Smart Villages’ implementation.
Edina Ocsko (Project Coordinator of Smart Rural 21) introduced the project and the various activities. She also highlighted that due to the high interest, a Come Along! process was initiated that allows non-participating villages to also follow the project, encouraging them to develop their own smart village strategies; as well as taking part in specific activities. Katerina Kassimati (Agricultural University of Athens, partner of the Smart Rural 21 project) presented the national expert work as well as how they supported one of the selected villages (Kythera) in Greece.
Four of the twenty-one participating villages presented their practical approach to Smart Villages:
- Mirka Huhtanen presented Raudanmaa (Finland) a rural community of 600 people, located in a sparsely populated area; struggling with the lack of public services. Mirka presented their objectives to improve services, maintain the strong sense of community, and take care of the living environment and clean countryside.
- Nika Kikelj presented Sentviska Gora Plateau (Slovenia) that comprises three main villages and several smaller hamlets of a total of some 600 residents. Villages are engaged in agriculture and forestry. Nika presented their new multi-purpose community building and introduced their ideas for developing a community website and App.
- Dimitris Bogiatzis presented Kythera (Greece) an island community covering several small settlements with a total population of some 4 000 inhabitants. Dimitris presented their existing remote monitoring and management of water system project and Kythera Trails that uses old paths around the island to create tourist attractions.
- Piotr Ostaszewski presented the Collective Farm in Tomaszyn (Poland) a modern agricultural ecosystem. The Smart Village Ecosystem consists of a healthy food farm, innovation farm, green energy farm, culture farm and health farm.
- Peter Plant presented Torup (Denmark) a village of 356 participants that follows a sustainable development path along four dimensions: ecology, economy, social and culture. Peter presented their practices on sustainable village development, including sustainable restoration of buildings (from private and crowd funding).
Take away message
The Smart Villages concept is gaining increasing importance in Europe. It is a tool to address rural challenges in innovative ways, supported by multiple policy tool.
The Smart Rural 21 project aims to support rural communities in developing and implementing their smart villages strategies. Motivated villages started their Smart Villages journey building on existing local initiatives, and realising their ideas for new initiatives.
Inspiration and exchange with other villages is the main expectation of participant villages from the Smart Rural 21 Project.
“We joined the Smart Villages initiative, because of the benefits of the cooperation and exchange of knowledge with other smart villages across Europe that can bring networking and partnerships.” (Nika Kikelj, Sentviska Gora Plateau)
“Smart Villages is not only about funding, it’s also very much about inspiration; to inspire people to take actions on the ground.” (Stefan Jensen, DG AGRI)
“If we want Smart Villages to be successful in all topics – agriculture, mobility, energy sector, social care, health care – it is important that we connect our ideas with the business sector.” (Franc Bogovic, MEP)
“What we think the Smart Rural 21 project might help us to do is to inspire each other and make waves. We are actually trying to see and tell the story of what it’s like to live and work in the countryside.” (Peter Plant, Torup)
“We started our strategy-development work by asking the villagers what services they need. Number one result in our questionnaire has been to ensure smooth services to villagers and tourists and to have a place for hobbies and gatherings.” (Mirka Huhtanen, Raudanmaa)