Pascal Chevalier, professor of rural geography at Paul-Valéry University in Montpellier and head of the master’s degree in regional management and local development, maps the very diverse countryside in our region, but deals with common issues.
Are there many types of villages in our area?
Yes. First there is the countryside polarized by the cities, which operate on the basis of a strong core-periphery relationship. A second type of rural areas is more economically autonomous, where tourism or regional micro-systems thrive, especially thanks to agriculture or viticulture. The third category is the deep rural areas, which are far from the cities and are in the stage of reconstruction. It is more complicated because its economic system is more or less failing, and it is handicapped by the remoteness that sets it apart.
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Are all these rural areas facing the same problems?
There are common complications with varying degrees of severity. Housing is the primary economic source of all these regions, whether permanent (private houses) or temporary (secondary dwellings, tourism). A second common feature is the problem of access to public services, which creates sociability and attachment to the territory. If it disappears from where we live, we talk about the suburbanization effect. There are as many public service closures in the suburbs as in the remote areas. The difference is that proximity to cities in the suburbs makes up for the deficit. A third intersectional aspect is that rural areas, including remote areas, are becoming more and more connected to the city through various means (networks, telecommuting).
How are these remote areas most affected?
There are various situations. Certain regions, such as the Cévennes massifs or the Corbières, have since the 1990s attracted young people looking for another quality of life. This phenomenon may have been accentuated by covid. This revitalizes residential economies, but shows two limitations: the economic plan is not always successful, for example in the Bédarieux basin we observe a precarious situation due to its remoteness.
Another limitation is that in these areas, we cannot hire a baker, butcher or staff for the nursing home on site. There is a conflict between the newcomers’ needs and plans. In addition, we have rural areas where movement is very difficult due to climate (Marguerite, Abrague) or lack of attractiveness. Here is the aging effect associated with an affective effect linked to the isolation of these campaigns. In the context of the medical desert, this makes it problematic to keep these people at home.
Is the event accelerated?
Yes. The lack of state presence has resulted in increasing restrictions between the people and their territory. Take the example of the post office, an identity service: the network is stretched. France is trying hard to make up for this distance by creating service houses, emphasized by the concentration of access to services in cities.
Do the public authorities have the awareness to correct this?
A report by the Court of Auditors in 2019 showed these problems with access to services. The government has done things, but there is still a certain dysfunction. The Department of Heraldry houses several French services and is a pioneer in the redistribution of public services in rural areas, developing new centers and towns that function like small towns. We also observe it in Limoux, Decazeville, Florac… We thought that digital technology would hide distance, but we are dealing with an elderly population, not adapted to these techniques, and certain territories still do not have 4G, especially in Lozère. The big problem is that the government always works on the basis of threshold for setting up services, whereas in rural areas, it is the distance that counts. No limits mean anything about areas with very low population density. In Larzac or North Lozère, we have 10 people per km2. We still have public policies with pipelines. If a school is built, nearby housing and transportation are required. Public action should be decentralized and regionalised.
State programs for business and schooling in rural areas
A wide-ranging plan to get business back into the countryside was launched at the end of February by the Deputy Minister for Small and Medium Enterprises, Trade, Crafts and Tourism, Olivia Gregoire, and the Deputy Minister for Local Government and Rural Affairs. Dominic Faure.
Although 62% of municipalities do not currently have shops, an envelope of €12 million will be allocated in the period 2023-2024. With investment assistance of up to €80,000 per project, the government will support the establishment of permanent multi-service shops and travel shops to serve several rural municipalities.
On March 31, Education Minister Bob Ndiaye announced a plan for schools in rural areas. Among the measures, better anticipation of the opening and closing of classes, creating a bonus in human resources to encourage mayors to organize inter-municipal educational groups, 3,000 places in the best boarding schools for rural students.
Are the areas threatened?
Some are already empty. Margeride’s core is in danger of being neglected. These areas cannot be called desert because of the highly seasonal summer activities that turn them into tourist destinations.