Introduction: Is there a smart development for rural areas?

Smart rural development: A way to question knowledge about development processes?

Today, the question of rural-urban peripheries and their place in development processes is being raised all over the world. Once overlooked as areas of secondary significance and places that don’t matter (Dijkstra et al., 2018; Essletzbichler et al., 2018; Rodriguez-Pose, 2018) in comparison with cities -with their smart development - peripheral areas and regions are now emerging and are having their revenge by causing a series of unexpected electoral victories, such as that of Donald Trump in the United States, of Brexit in the United Kingdom or of populists in Italy, by counteracting votes from big cities (Goodwin and Heath. 2016; Inglehart and Norris, 2016; Hobolt, 2016). The revolt of the so-called Yellow vests in France can in part be explained by the isolation of peripheries, which are faced with difficulties related to rising fuel prices and the demise of public services.

The issue arising everywhere is that of the gap in development, which never seems to be truly eliminated, between on the one hand, the most urbanized areas and countries producers of wealth and knowledge - and, on the other hand, the more peripheral areas and countries, which always more or less lag behind and are mostly considered as being at the receiving end, rather than producers of, wealth or innovation, and the beneficiaries of aid or catch-up policies. The problem has now taken the form of demonstrations by inhabitants of these regions, many of whom express their despair or opposition to state policies, without, however, any real alternative development solutions being proposed to address this major issue (Capello and Perucca, 2019).

This has obviously become a pressing issue in developed countries, and particularly in Europe, even though rural and peripheral areas in this continent have long been targeted by policies aimed at promoting the convergence of growth and achieving a level of development comparable to that of the most urbanized areas. Despite the efforts made, we now see that these different policies have their limitations and that the problem of developmental inequalities remains unresolved (Gagliardi and Percoco, 2016;

Crescenzi and Giua, 2016). And there is an urgent necessity to solve it to prevent the emergence of a two-tier society in which the social-spatial divide would become the root of very serious unrest and in so doing would threaten the unity of the Continent.

It is within this framework that the EU’s new growth strategy for 2020, whose ambition is to make the EU a “smart, sustainable and inclusive economy”, has been developed. It represents the core priority of the European policy and has five main objectives: employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy. Moreover, four growth policy targets are identified, relating to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, as well as economic governance. This objective requires the identification, in a context of global competition, of a region’s comparative advantages and that they be taken into account in the context of global value chains and innovation processes, but also in priority sectors. Smart development strategies are based on the exploitation of related variety in European areas and regions and on their ability to initiate new activities and/or technological fields.

However, it is questionable whether these extremely ambitious and well-funded smart specialization and smart development policies do correspond to the specific needs of the different European regions and in particular, of rural and peripheral areas, and whether they offer real hope for these territories, as well as a solution to the growing territorial divide. In other words, to what extent are those policies applicable to all types of areas, and in particular to the least industrialized, those that are the most remote from urban centers and are often described as the least developed or dynamic in the European Union?

The purpose of this book, produced in the framework of the TASTE project1, is to provide clear answers to two major questions:

  • a) Is there a possible smart development policy for European rural areas?
  • b) Which type of smart development solution (agriculture, business/ industry, peri-urbanization, tourism/leisure ...) should be selected in view of regional specificities?

It also aims to provide recommendations regarding new policies and stakeholder-relevant knowledge on conditions for and factors behind rural development, which can be useful for improving rural and peri-urban development policy at local/regional, national and European levels, be it as part of smart development and smart specialization policies or not.

The book identifies issues of smart specialization and forms of development of rural and peri-urban areas, and their relationships with urban dynamics, given the diversity of local configurations. It also examines the contribution of public policy and governance patterns as a consistent and innovative means of intervention to support smart development of rural areas. The chapters aim to identify the main conditions for a Smart Rural Europe and to shed light on the possible role of rural areas in the regional dynamics of

Europe, in view of the orientations defined by the Horizon 2020 strategy, the smart development policies launched by EU and of the profound changes that are taking place in rural areas.

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