The outflow of young people from rural areas to work, study, and start a family in the city is a trend that’s holding back sustainable rural community development.
Is it possible to reverse the trend?
A year ago, the Nordic regional ministers decided to consult young people for their thoughts on the matter.
25 young people from across the Nordic Region in advisory panel
The Nordic research institute Nordregio was tasked with recruiting young people aged 18 to 25 from every sparsely populated corner of the Nordic Region and with assembling a youth panel.
The youth panel has been tasked with compiling recommendations for the Nordic Council of Ministers, as well as national, regional, and local authorities. The recommendations are intended to provide insights and promote solutions and opportunities for young people to establish themselves in Nordic rural areas.
“Usually the youngest”
At the regional ministers’ meeting in Iceland on 18 October, the youth panel representatives had the opportunity to discuss their preliminary recommendations with the Nordic ministers responsible for regional development and physical planning.
Sofia Lindgårde, from a “small town in Västergötland” in Sweden, is one of the participants in the youth panel.
“Those of us who live in rural areas are usually the youngest in any context. It’s been incredibly enlightening to discuss the conditions for young people in sparsely populated areas with peers from other countries. Even though the conditions may vary, we think in very similar ways,” she says.
Give young people influence in community planning
Sofia’s answer to the question of whether rural areas can be made attractive for young people is a resounding ‘yes!’.
She points out that municipalities and regions should leverage the opportunities provided by digitalisation and listen to young people in matters related to housing and community planning as a whole.
“I believe that the regional ministers, as well as the municipalities and regions, should consider how they can give young people more influence over community planning in sparsely populated areas. This could be in the form of advisory panels,” says Sofia, who is part of the youth panel but did not participate in the ministerial meeting in Iceland.
New solutions for jobs, housing, and transportation
The youth panel’s recommendations include aspects related to transportation, housing, culture and social meeting places, education, sports, and health.
Jobs are needed in order for young people to live in rural areas and, according to Sofia, it’s crucial to have early contact with the local business community – such as by way of internships during education – for young people to see the opportunity to work locally.
Tips to be handed over to governments
Although the 40 recommendations will be formally published and shared with the Nordic governments in November, the youth panel representatives attended the regional ministers’ meeting in Iceland and gave a verbal report.
“It’s been enlightening to get a better insight into what it is that has effect on where young people would like to live, study, and work in the future. In recent years, we’ve tried to listen to what young people have to say when it comes to the shaping policy. It’s important to have a dialogue with young people and really listen to their views in all our work and political decision-making about future regional planning,” says Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Iceland’s Minister of Infrastructure.
Role of regional policies in crisis preparedness
The meeting of regional ministers also included a discussion on how security and crisis preparedness are linked to the development of regional policy in the Nordic Region.
The background for the discussion was both the war in Ukraine and the climate impact of things like landslides and floods on the security of those living in the various areas of the Nordic Region.
Both the work of the youth panel and the security aspects of regional policy will be reflected in the upcoming programme for Nordic co-operation on regional policy and spatial planning.