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52nd Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "Regions in Motion - Breaking the Path", 21-25 August 2012, Bratislava, Slovakia
The countryside, the rural area, the open space, … many definitions are used for rural Flanders. Everyone makes its own interpretation of the countryside, considering it as a place for living, working or recreating. The countryside is more than just a geographical area: it is an aggregate of physical, social, economic and cultural functions, strongly interrelated with each other. According to international and European definitions of rural areas there would be almost no rural area in Flanders. These international definitions are all developed to be used for analysis and policy within their specific context. They are not really applicable to Flanders because of the historical specificity of its spatial structure. Flanders is characterized by a giant urbanization pressure on its countryside while internationally rural depopulation is a point of interest. To date, for every single rural policy initiative – like the implementation of the European Rural Development Policy – Flanders used a specifically adapted definition, based on existing data or previously made delineations. To overcome this oversupply of definitions and delineations, the Flemish government funded a research project to obtain a clear and flexible definition of the Flemish countryside and a dynamic method to support Flemish rural policy aims. First, an analysis of the currently used definitions of the countryside, in Flanders and surrounding countries, was made. It is clear that, depending on the perspective or the policy context, another definition of the countryside comes into view. The comparative study showed that, according to the used criteria, the area percentage of Flanders that is rural, varies between 9 and 93 per cent. Second, dynamic sets of criteria were developed, facilitating a flexible definition of the countryside, according to the policy aims concerned. This research part was focused on 6 policy themes, like ‘construction, maintenance and management of local (transport) infrastructure' and ‘offering of (minimal) services (education, culture, health care, …)'. For each theme a dynamic set of criteria or indicators was constructed. These indicators make it possible to show where a policy theme manifests itself and/or where policy interventions are possible or needed. In this way every set of criteria makes up a new definition of rural Flanders. This method is dynamic; new data or insights can easily be incorporated and new criteria sets can be developed if other policy aims come into view. The developed method can contribute to a more region-oriented and theme-specific rural policy and funding mechanism. Other possible sessions: - E. Finance and regional development - N. Regional strategies and policies - ZM. SS- Territorial Governance, rural areas and local agro food systems
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