Towns and Rural Areas in the Alps
Both towns and rural areas in the Alps have undergone significant changes in the last decades. These changes affected and still affect various aspects, among others the number of inhabitants, the (perceived) function of towns and rural areas, their accessibility and infrastructural development, or the way they are regarded culturally.
by Serena Rauzi, CIPRA International
Nearly two-thirds of the population in the European Alps (which totals 14.2 million) live in towns or peri-urban municipalities. A good town management is necessary in the Alps to prevent outmigration. The towns must be internally integrated with their hinterlands and externally integrated in supra-regional networks to maintain the quality of life and contribute to regional economic growth.
In densely populated Europe, large metropolitan areas have developed on the peri-Alpine edges at the foot of the mountains on both sides of the Alps, while towns in the mountains themselves have remained small or medium-size centres for the most part.
This pattern did not seem to be a problem in the past. However, since the 1970's, preventing emigration from mountainous areas has become a major national concern, giving rise to the implementation of regional development policies. These policies were exhaustive, with a sectoral focus on agriculture, and emphasis on development of infrastructure. They were successful to a certain extent, and the population of the Alps grew disproportionately in recent decades. Since the mid 1990's, however, this trend has been reversed and now favours metropolitan areas outside the mountains.
Tenna, in the Safien Valley in Grisons, has 118 inhabitants. In villages like Tenna, jobs are scarce. The threat of out-migration is thus a serious problem (Source: Christoph Püschner / ZEITENSPIEGEL).
The socio-cultural influence of urban centres is increasing, including new demands for leisure and environmental protection, both of which work against previous ideas about the comprehensive development of rural areas.
As urban behavioural patterns become dominant, the existence of towns is becoming crucial for future regional development. This is especially true for sparsely populated regions within the mountains, where there is a need to avoid greater out-migration.