The crisis in rural areas is essentially a European problem. From Spain to Germany, from The Netherlands to Poland, from United Kingdom to France, there are similar imbalances to the situation in Italy: depopulation and ageing of the population, abandonment and decay of small town centres, difficulty in keeping existing businesses and/or in launching new start-ups, intensive agricultural practices to the detriment of biodiversity, pollution, a lack of infrastructures and services for tourism, as well as a shortage of job opportunities for the population, etc.
There are possible solutions to each of these problems, different paths to follow depending on the potential of each region, its physical characteristics, but also its social and economic policies.
Over the last few decades, these solutions have been closely examined by certain projects and initiatives, which has been of great interest to the authorities. These solutions are being discussed by institutions at conventions, debates, or during legislative action at international, national, regional and municipal levels; they are being discussed by the population organised into associations and movements, action groups and ecovillages; they are being discussed by the European Union which for years has been introducing intervention strategies and Community policies, funding experimental programmes, as well as establishing cooperation networks and pilot projects that provide training and information in order to implement the activities in rural regions; lastly, they are being discussed by landscape designers, town planners and architects, namely experts in the area, those who come up with possible scenarios once they have gathered all the necessary information and identified the various ways to learn about and understand the region.
Which is the role that architecture has to play in this framework of rural intensification?
Enhancing rural architecture, small towns, farmsteads and ancient relics is one of the main components for the regeneration of the countryside. It is a strategy with a positive outcome, even only if it has been supported simultaneously by the possibility of creating more business (also working from this architectural heritage), but which nevertheless is planned taking into account the improvement of the perceived aesthetic structure of the countryside. Therefore, in this development process for business in the region, there also has to be an increase in environmental quality and in the infrastructures which allow people to use the environment, etc.
The development of small and medium-sized enterprises also forms a possible opening strategy, but in this case as well, only if it allows the possibility at the same time of reusing the existing building heritage or at least respects its presence as a unique value for a region. In the meantime, small and medium-sized enterprises should be supported by specific services, such as access to information and communication technologies, and they must also have new types of sustainable infrastructures for the environment which allow businesses to establish themselves in a region and to promote new initiatives. The protection of biodiversity, as well as new models of organic and bio-dynamic farming, can translate into opportunities to diversify the range of services towards other economic sectors as well, such as tourism.