Development specialization; Social Justice and Human Rights specialization
According to the UN, in 2008 the world’s population moved from majority rural to majority urban. In three years, the estimate is that 60% of people will live in towns and cities. In some parts of the world, the move to urban living has been going on for hundreds of years; in other places though, the pace of change has been rapid and sometimes overwhelming. In Asia, Latin America and Africa, the so-called mega cities have grown so fast that states have not been able to keep up. Many new agglomerations don’t have enough jobs, proper housing, infrastructure or functioning public services. Mega cities produce mega slums with all the attendant problems of poverty, crime and early death.
The aim of this course is not to focus on urban development, but to consider its flip side. The condition of the rural areas is intimately connected with the city. Where there are not enough chances for income, where the natural environment is degraded, or simply the quality of life seems lower, for many, the choice is to leave, sometimes temporarily but other times for good. Demographic decline can fatally weaken the viability of rural settlements, leading to ghost villages in only a matter of years. In other cases, rural areas can be oases of prosperity, associated with higher standards of living and rising populations. Locations matter of course, but the nature of the connections between the rural and urban areas are always critical and potentially mutually beneficial rather than the zero-sum game in which the rural always loses.
This course examines a range of public policy issues in contemporary rural development. Examples will be drawn from a range of countries, although there will be a focus on the former socialist countries where questions of recent transition and adaption are acute. Since the collapse of the old system, many rural areas have struggled to keep up with the pace and direction of change. Poverty levels have increased and the viability of many settlements has been put in question by falling birth rates, out migration and an underdeveloped private sector.
Rural development policy is much more than simply maintaining the farming sector. Supporting a viable countryside requires understanding all the territorial forces that influence rural development, not just those that determine the economy. It requires taking into account not only the distinct nature of rural life but the ways in which this is constantly changing. Many questions are common to rural areas – the mobility and migration question, the management of resources and the nature of property, the delivery of decent public services as a means of ensuring stability and growth and, of course, the continuing evolution of the ways in which we produce food.