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24.1 Shaping rural transition: How to empower local communities?

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
9:00 - 10:30


Chantal Karadag
Senior Researcher, Deputy Head, ISU – Institute for Sustainable Urbanism,
TU Braunschweig

METAPOLIS. TOPOI. SCENARIOS for Urban-Rural Sustainability in Lower Saxony


Metapolis conceptualizes the network of urban and rural settlements interconnected by flows of people, goods, and information. How can this Metapolis be understood and evolved in a more sustainable manner? TOPOI. METAPOLIS. SCENARIOS for Urban-Rural Sustainability in Lower Saxony presents the current results of our ongoing work and analysis of urban and rural communities in Lower Saxony – a federal state of Germany consisting of few large cities, mostly mid-sized and small towns, suburbs, and villages.

By example of two study regions we introduce an innovative analytical framework to analyze urban-rural settlement patterns called Topoi. Based on this we developed different scenarios for the sustainable development of different settlement types with and for exemplary communities in the interconnected network of cities, towns, and villages. The derived spatial scenarios for different possible and sustainable futures comprise solutions for housing, work, green-blue networks and mobility have been extensively deliberated with our cooperating partners such as municipal administrations.

By extrapolating the effects of the local scenarios within a TOPOS to the scale of the study regions we are able to show how an incremental change in the communities may have a major impact on the larger urban-rural system. Our research allowed to identify the potentials that emerge not least from the viewpoint of creating comparable living conditions: how “little” is necessary to provide for much needed housing solutions, for improving access to public transport in semi-urban and rural areas, and to equalize the liveability of urban and rural communities.
Annalisa Spalazzi
Phd Candidate
Gran Sasso Science Institute

Enterprising communities as enablers for the socio-ecological transition in marginal rural areas: an Italian empirical assessment


Enterprising Communities are social transformation practices developed by self-organised groups of citizens. They arise in both rural and urban areas to meet place-based socio-economic needs, implementing innovative solutions in goods and services provision through a collective experiment in a defined place. Thanks to their governance model, Enterprising Communities lead to the building of commons (De Angelis, 2017) or have a primary role in governing them (Ostrom, 1990), with particular regard to marginalised contexts such as transitioning rural areas. As different territories have diverse local factors at the basis of their economic and social development (Coffey & Polèse, 1985), Enterprising Communities can take on several community-led models. Covid-19 accelerated their role and is expected that the current geopolitical, climate, and energy crises will further foster cooperation through different Enterprising Communities models such as Community-based Cooperatives, Energy Communities, and Collaboration Agreements. However, the dialogue between such community-led models and policy-driven initiatives is still lacking, resulting in missed opportunities for local economies to thrive.
Therefore, how do Enterprising Communities enable the socio-ecological transition in marginal rural areas through a dynamic interaction between local resources and their policy-driven initiatives?
The empirical analysis starts from the results of the project "Comunitá Intraprendenti” (EURICSE, 2022), which mapped about 700 Enterprising Communities in Italy. Through a mixed methods approach, the paper contributes to debates on the role of Enterprising Community in the socio-ecological transition. Meanwhile, it provides policy guidance through a system innovation perspective to integrate community-led models and policy-driven initiatives in transitioning rural areas.
Dr. Marija Drobnjakovic
Research Associate, Geographical Institute Jovan Cvijic
Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts



The territory of Serbia is characterized by significant spatial disparities in terms of population and economic features and utilization of development potential. They are based on long-term developmental polarization and administrative centralization, which led to urban areas favouring and allowed dominance of the city planning. On the other hand, it induces the imbalance in spatial organization of settlement network and overall dependence of rural settlements. The rural settlements become non-viable, and the services and opportunities deprived. In order to achieve a better spatial organization, a concept for identification of central (key) settlements in local territories is emphasized, supported in the new Spatial Plan of the Republic of Serbia (draft), as well. The research presented in the paper is focused on (i) establishing a methodological framework for the identification of ‘rural hub’ as settlements in the rural area of Serbia as carriers of balanced functional and spatial development, (ii) their spatial distribution and (iii) sphere of their influence. The previous approaches were supplemented by the introduction of corrective factors (commuting, regional/area population potential, etc.). The spatial coverage of the research is the territory of Serbia, the settlement level. The temporal coverage refers to the last available official statistical data and data on the number of inhabitants with a high spatial resolution (Global Human Settlement Layer (GHS Layer). The research results showed that determined rural hubs and their functional areas are valuable rural planning tool for holistic understanding of rural places, empowering their residents, supporting a bottom-up approach and spatial disparities mitigation.
Dr. Joséphine Lécuyer

Implementing alternative measures to limit peripheralization: the case of West Pomerania (Germany)


The Land of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania is a rural federal state of Germany located in the north east of the country. The eastern part of the Land in particular has experienced strong difficulties in several fields since the German reunification: demographic shrinkage and aging population, economic crisis and high unemployment, and a high level of extreme right vote (AfD, NPD) have led it to be considered as a peripheralized area (Bernt et al., 2009). This critical situation has fostered a political will to act, as the classical tools available to stakeholders in rural areas to limit the impact of demographic change have proven to be inadequate. This communication questions to what extent the framework provided by political measures taken at the Land’s scale stimulates or limits local stakeholders. First, we present the creation of a special position dedicated to the financial support of local development in West-Pomerania. Then, we analyze the implementation of a new program dedicated to rural development in a context of demographic shrinkage. Finally, we discuss the way both these measures aim to empower the population and raise awareness on structural demographic change in the Land in a bottom-up perspective. Our methodological framework is based on a mix of qualitative methods including 30 semi-directive interviews with institutional and non-institutional stakeholders at the Land and local scale, observation of 14 rural development reunions, as well as analysis of local press and online material.

Session host

Peter Schaal
University of Oldenburg



Contact for questions about abstracts or registration: groningen@congressbydesign.com 

Contact for questions about the content of the programme: ruralgeo2023@rug.nl