Article

Supporting Sustainable Rural Regeneration

Cultural and natural heritage, in all its manifestations, are pillars of the identity, cohesion and well-being of communities. The transformative power of cultural and natural heritage is increasingly recognized as a key enabler for sustainable development, particularly in rural areas facing chronic economic, social and environmental challenges. UNESCO organized a conference on “Sustainable Rural Regeneration” in June 2022 to foster knowledge exchange and reflections on the future of rural development in Europe and beyond.
Supporting Sustainable Rural Regeneration - final RURITAGE conference, June 2022

The conference was organized in the context of the Horizon 2020 RURITAGE project, and gathered practitioners and international experts from the European Commission and EU funded projects, as well as the rural communities participating in the project. The two-day conference included an interactive workshop on rural future scenarios, discussions with leading European researchers and practitioners and an information session for Member States.

Final conference of the RURITAGE project

RURITAGE is a European Union Horizon 2020 funded project that created a new paradigm for the regeneration of rural areas by using their unique Cultural and Natural Heritage (CNH) as a driver to boost sustainable development and increase competitiveness. The first day of the Sustainable Rural Regeneration conference, on 9 June, was also the final conference of the RURITAGE project.

It kicked off with a welcome speech by Mr. Kristof Vandenberghe, UNESCO’s Chief of Section for Earth Sciences and Geoparks, who highlighted the Organization’s role in building a culture of dialogue amongst civilizations, cultures and peoples and how heritage has the potential to be a universal value that promotes that dialogue. He highlighted the success story of UNESCO Global Geoparks, which combine conservation and promotion of local natural and cultural heritage with the direct involvement of local communities, fostering sustainable development and advancing economic growth.

Professor Simona Tondelli, vice-rector of the University of Bologna and RURITAGE coordinator, followed, underlining how the project was able to successfully gather dozens of partners from across Europe and beyond under a common banner, using cultural and natural heritage to regenerate rural regions. Presenting the audience with a summary of RURITAGE project methodology and results, such as the de facto improvement of the rural regions that participated in the project; the digital platform RURITAGE Resource Ecosystem and the knowledge sharing and dissemination actions that accounted for 26 public webinars, two summer schools and hundreds of digital actions, Professor Tondelli stressed how other rural areas of the world could benefit from an adapted RURITAGE methodology.

After the two welcoming speeches, it was time for the 19 RURITAGE regions, both Role Models and Replicators, to show the audience how the project changed the landscape for the better in 3-minute presentations. 

The morning sessions ended with presentations by Francisco Barrientos from CARTIF, who developed the monitoring platform of the project; Professor Rosa Tamborrino from the Polytechnic University of Torino who presented the RURITAGE Resource Ecosystem and by James Donlon and Eunan Cunningham from WestBic that gave an insight on the exploitation and long-term strategy for RURITAGE.

In the afternoon, RURITAGE participants attended an interactive workshop aimed at better understanding the possibilities for EU rural areas to cope with changing conditions. Working in parallel groups, participants explored the future consequences of several scenarios and, based on their choices, developed policy proposals to promote resilience in the rural space.

Kristof Vandenberghe opening the RURITAGE conference
Kristof Vandenberghe, Chief of Section for Earth Sciences and Geoparks, UNESCO
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Simona Tondelli opening RURITAGE Conference
Simona Tondelli, Vice-rector of the University of Bologna, RURITAGE Coordinator
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EU Rural Regeneration Workshop

In the morning of the 10 June, several rural development projects funded by the European Union gathered in a round-table discussion to present their strategies and results to EU regional and national stakeholders and exchange views on the potential uptake of RURITAGE innovative solutions in other EU territories.

Moderated by Aitziber Egusquiza Ortega, Senior Researcher at TECNALIA and leader of one of RURITAGE’s work-packages; the first round table had the participation of Andrea Gioseffi, AURORAL Chief Editor; Antonella Fresa, INCULTUM Communication & Dissemination Manager; Igor Pucarevic, Be.CULTOUR National Project Coordinator and Daniel van der Velden, DESIRA PhD researcher. The session opened with Claudia de Luca, Junior Assistant professor at the University of Bologna who presented community-based regeneration case studies in RURITAGE. RURITAGE participants gave their testimony on being part of the project and what changes occurred in their regions. Although each region faces specific challenges and implemented their own regeneration plans, a common idea was expressed by all: being part of a community, a network of regions with similar issues, empowered them and made them feel that it is possible to overcome the challenges. Many participants praised the project for providing a common place to share knowledge and co-create solutions.

The most important lesson learned was that Rural Regeneration isn’t just about implementing a well thought action plan, it is about changing our mind-set. Through RURITAGE we realised that a lot of problems could be transformed into opportunities and that’s what we’ve been trying to do and the lesson we will keep
Gianluca Vagnarelli Comune di Appignano del Tronto

The second session, moderated by Philippe Pypaert, of UNESCO, had the participation of Arianna Pasa, Research Programme Officer in the DG AGRI European Commission; Olivier Chartier, SHERPA Project Coordinator; Alexandru Matei, Senior Officer at ICLEI Europe and Matteo Rosati, Programme Officer from the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.

“The key word for rural regeneration is ‘Empowerment’ and for that, raising awareness and engaging local stakeholders is key”, said Ms Pasa. Building on this, Olivier Chartier stated that more active participation of civil society in the policy design concerning rural areas is the basis for a long-term vision for these areas. “We have to keep in mind that these need to be places to live, to work and to visit” he said. “An important pre-requisite is the collection of data at local level, to trigger a policy debate and build evidence that hopefully will lead to well-informed decisions” he continued.

We need a mentality shift - a realistic, informed understanding of what rural areas actually are--the positive and the negative. We need a mentality shift in terms of vision, and the value they can bring beyond their areas.
Alex Matei ICLEI ES

Matteo Rosati, expressed a that he would like to see culture recognized and embedded as a driver for sustainable development in rural areas. He went on to inform the audience about the Culture 2030 indicators, a UNESCO framework of thematic indicators whose purpose is to measure and monitor the progress of culture’s contribution to the national and local implementation of the Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Heritage, and more generally Culture, is what binds people, what brings social cohesion, identity and vitality. We are developing indicators that take into account rural areas, data that measure the gaps, and that express not only the monetary value of development,” explained Matteo Rosati from the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.

The discussion further elaborated on the policies that underpin such rural regeneration and the need for an interdisciplinary approach. Alex Matei elucidated how ICLEI works in assessing the territorial impact of policies, looking at innovation from all perspectives and went on to explain that both the high tech, the low tech as well as the traditional and indigenous knowledge can be used for technological, social and environmental innovation.

The panellists further brought the discussion to the tension between agriculture that still accounts for 10% of the economic share of rural areas and biodiversity. On this matter, Ms. Pasa informed the meeting that the European Commission is working on a rural observatory, to collect more and better data about the connection between agriculture, biodiversity and climate change.

On the importance and dangers of tourism, panellists stressed the importance of providing an “experience” that is valuable for visitor and local community alike.

In the end, the panellists summed up the key factors for a successful rural regeneration policy: trust (inclusive consultation, community engagement), good communication (and the art of listening) and continuity.

The afternoon of the 10 June was dedicated to a round table on rural regeneration aimed at UNESCO Member States. Moderated by Kristof Vandenberghe, UNESCO Chief of Section for Earth Sciences and Geoparks, the opening remarks were given by Abou Amani, Director of the Division of Water Sciences, Secretary, Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), UNESCO, who addressed the urban-rural divide, the great challenges posed by population imbalance and how UNESCO sites are leading in demonstrating that it is possible for rural areas to overcome adversities.

The COVID19 pandemic crisis exacerbated the consequences of a number of longstanding challenges faced by rural areas. Despite this, outstanding examples of resilience came from UNESCO sites, many in rural areas" said Abou Amani,  Director of the Division of Water Sciences, Secretary, Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), UNESCO. "We saw the UNESCO Global Geoparks creating participative platforms to enable the exchange of services such as shopping for the elderly or repairing computers for remote workers and developing online purchasing platforms to enable residents to consume locally. We learned about the communication materials on the use of marine resources for medical purposes, produced in UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves and we saw the UNESCO World Heritage Sites streaming live tours and creating virtual visits so that people could still celebrate the beauty of this unique heritage.“ 

Noëline Raondry Rakotoarisoa, Director of the Ecological and Earth Sciences Division, UNESCO, gave an overview of the important role the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme is playing in protecting ecosystems and enhancing the relationship between people and their environments; and Jyoti Hosagrahar, Deputy Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre (WHC), explained how the WHC seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. Khalissa Ikhlef, Programme Specialist of the Indigenous and Local Knowledge Section, UNESCO demonstrated how the UNESCO's Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems programme (LINKS) promotes local and indigenous knowledge and its inclusion in global climate science and policy processes. Abou Amani, Director of the Water Sciences Division, UNESCO, focused on the importance of water resources for rural communities around the world. Ariana Pasa, Research Programme Officer representing the DG AGRI European Commission and Simona Tondelli, Vice Rector of the University of Bologna and RURITAGE Project Coordinator, were also among the speakers.

“Most of the Biosphere Reserves are located in rural regions which means that they suffer from the same problems that many rural regions around the world experience: an aging population which is decreasing, issues with infrastructure, particularly access to healthcare and education, and of course land use and environmental issues which we try to tackle through the MAB programme “  said Noëline Raondry Rakotoarisoa, Director of the Ecological and Earth Sciences Division, UNESCO.

 

RURITAGE Final Conference Panel 2
Discussion panel "Rural territories in EU funded projects: inspiration from Local Communities" Aitziber Egusquiza Ortega, Senior Researcher at TECNALIA; Andrea Gioseffi, AURORAL Chief Editor; Antonella Fresa, INCULTUM Communication & Dissemination Manager; Igor Pucarevic, Be.CULTOUR National Project Coordinator; Daniel van der Velden, DESIRA PhD researcher.
RURITAGE Final Conference Panel 1
Panel on "Rural Development and regeneration within European Union Agenda" Pictured: Philippe Pypaert, Programme Specialist, UNESCO; Arianna Pasa, Research Programme Officer, DG AGRI European Commission; Olivier Chartier, SHERPA Project Coordinator; Alexandru Matei, Senior Officer, ICLEI Europe; Matteo Rosati, Programme Officer, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.
RURITAGE Final Conference Panel 3
Round table on Rural Regeneration. Information Session to UNESCO Member States. Pictured: Kristof Vandenberghe, Chief of Section for Earth Sciences and Geoparks, UNESCO ; Noëline Raondry Rakotoarisoa, Director of the Ecological and Earth Sciences Division, UNESCO; Jyoti Hosagrahar, Deputy Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre; Khalissa Ikhlef, Programme Specialist, Indigenous and Local Knowledge Section, UNESCO; Abou Amani, Director of the Water Sciences Division, UNESCO; Arianna Pasa, Research Programme Officer, DG AGRI European Commission; Simona Tondelli, Vice Rector of the University of Bologna, RURITAGE Project Coordinator.

During these two days, in the speeches and interventions of the various participants, a common idea can be highlighted: heritage in all its forms, enables social cohesion and well-being, fosters socio-economic development and has the potential to enhance the long-term benefits of economic activities and change the face of rural regions across the world.

The conference also demonstrated that, although we do not currently hold a magical solution to the several issues rural areas are facing and a “one-size-fits-all” methodology is very unlikely to be successful, there is one thing experts agree on:  the action of the market is not enough and government-led policy interventions are needed to mitigate the decline of rural areas. That is why UNESCO’s major programmes and activities – Man and the Biosphere, International Geoscience and Geoparks Programme, International Hydrological Programme, Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Disaster Risk Reduction - and the action of the European Commission, through the funding of several rural development programmes such as RURITAGE, are essential steps to face this challenge.