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Marche en famenne: The future of small and medium-sized cities

Small towns have always been overlooked as a place for opportunities, in comparison to big cities. 

The UN-Habitat report predicted 2/3 of the world population to live in cities by 2030, which threatens an unprecedented pressure on resources and infrastructure. However, there are also opportunities for development, which behooves as to explore what the future can be for small and medium-sized cities, that are embedded in a rural context?

Marche en Famenne is a living laboratory of the kind of work that can be done to create new opportunities within small cities. We were hosted by Mr. Charles Ferdinand Nothomb, former Belgian minister and the president of Foundation du dialogue Sud- Nord de la mediterrannée, in his hometown for a day-long workshop.

As it turns out, Marche en Famenne, which used to be a poor rural town in the 50’s-60’s is a space for developing new enterprises, with infrastructure that can support launching new activities, and continue doing so in the future.  This exciting recipe for success comprises bringing together research and business development in the same premises. 

Territorial management is another important ingredient for sustainable urbanism while valorizing the historical buildings and museums. Supporting culture and sport is a third ingredient which attracts youth and brings the city to life. Of course, when we mention youth, it is inevitable to talk about job creation, Marche en Famenne boasts of 13, 000 jobs distributed between the public and the private sectors. 

In the GFAR introduction speech, Adewale Adekunle affirmed that development is not possible when communities are isolated from each other. A dialogue is the starting point for creating opportunities that eventually lead to development. Through this dialogue, the capacities required to meet the demands of urban communities can be identified, as well as what the community members want to be in the future.

The city of Tarragona in Spain is an example of a middle-sized city embedded in a rural territory. Famous for the petrochemical industry, Tarragona was transformed into a tourist destination, with a sustainable strategy for facing climate change. A focus on culture made the citizens proud of their city, a pride that is evident in social and cultural events to celebrate the origin linked to middle ages.  Only recently did the Catalan government set a strategy for innovation in wineries and nut production, after having lost the market share to the Turkish market during the 80’s and 90’s. The University of Tarragona has also elected a panel of experts who represent the private, public and research spheres to make realistic plans for innovation for the next 15-20 years.

Next was Mr. Gunther Schartz, the district administrator of Trier-Saarburg. Who affirmed that small towns are can be a new destination for development, promising to host enterprises and firms, especially with the existing strategy to introduce high-speed internet to rural areas. The result is only 2.7% of unemployment. Mr. Sameh Fawzy from the Library of Alexandria entailed made a brief comparison with the reality of rural Egypt and asked Schultz how this situation could be overcome. 

Citing the constitution in Germany as an example, which states that there should be a balance between rural areas and big cities. There are no megacities, but smaller cities with 4 million inhabitants and a balanced division of infrastructure and budget allocation. 

The development of ICT can contribute to attracting young people to small towns embedded in rural territories. This trend can support innovation, and dissolve the barrier between the rural and the urban parts of the territory. Unfortunately, some regions have more advantage than others, which means that territorial development calls for a context-specific approach that addresses both the social and ecological realities. 

To that end, actors need to move towards a common vision, or in other words, develop the capacity for having a common project. This territorial integration can give rise to policies that enable innovation and new business models. It all comes down to a collective will to make a difference. 


Picture credit: Maria Jesús Blanco