Rural areas as actors in the project of regional systems: A comparison between Sardinia and the North-West Development Region of Romania

From Firenze University Press Journal: Contesti

Anna Maria Colavitti, Università degli Studi di Cagliari

Oana-Ramona Ilovan, Babeş-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca

Paul Mutică, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca

Sergio Serra, Università degli Studi di Cagliari

Rural areas represent 83% of the EU territory, where 30.6% of the population lives (European Commission, 2018). The processes of globalisation and the important challenges linked to the environmental and climate crisis require actions of renewal and innovative tools for intervention in rural areas, where the interrelation of anthropic and natural factors produces complex and dynamic territorial systems (Poli, 2020; Agnoletti, 2014). Since the Second World War, the rural landscape has changed radically as a result of a progressive and continuous urbanization of the territory, with phenomena of urban sprawl that have involved areas external to the consolidated fabric, without any correlation with the quantitative population growth (Fanfani, 2006).

The issues related to the agricultural use of space and the conditions of rurality have always acquired a residual role in urban and territorial policies, often neglected in favor of policies directed to the support of the general trend to the urbanization of the population, which is constantly growing (Balestrieri, 2018). The now unquestioned recognition of the biological and ecosystem value of soil and its role in the protection of public health has not arrested the process of progressive land take for building purposes, which damages large agricultural areas suitable for food production and destructures the urban form. Urban and rural do not exist in nature, but are the result of an ongoing process of “social” production of space, whose history dates back to the origin of the agricultural activity that has affected deeply the natural landscape (Sereni, 1986). The same dichotomy between urban and rural space is artificial: these are contexts with almost different characteristics, but which cannot in any way be dissociated (Santangelo, 2018).

Urban development is usually conceived as a pervasive phenomenon that progressively overtakes rural space according to discontinuous dynamics and forms, resulting in the loss of natural areas that are essential for the livelihood of communities. The processes of transformation of the rural landscape do not coincide exclusively with the spread of settlements, but include the spatial changes made to space by agricultural production, a human activity that follows the same logics of the market and profit on which the urban phenomenon is based. The high concentration of agricultural production in areas with favorable characteristics (flat, with infrastructures and more productive) leads to the underutilization and abandonment of rural areas less attractive for accessibility, morphology of places or presence of detractors (Treu, 2009). Intensive agriculture, linked to an industrial structure of the agri-food system, can also have negative effects on the rural territory, just as the excessive fragmentation of the farmland generates problems in the management of production processes so much that it does not allow even a subsistence agricultural activity (Agostini, 2018).

The economic and demographic crisis widely affects the European rural areas, in particular in some marginal and fragile areas, which have conditions of disadvantage such as to encourage the progressive and almost unstoppable phenomenon of depopulation, in addition to the problem of natural decrease in population. Comparing two different European contexts, the paper aims to analyze the social and economic changes connected to the depopulation of rural areas in order to discuss the bioregionalist model to reverse the trend and achieve a sustainable development (Fanfani, 2020). The two case studies chosen for this paper are the Italian island of Sardinia and the Romanian North-West Development Region of Romania. Apparently very different in nature, the two regions share some similarities as will be shown in the following sections, notably a low population density (66 people/km2 in Sardinia and 73 people/km2 in the North-West Region), somewhat scarce infrastructure and a tendency for a further decrease in population because of a negative natural growth rate.

In addition, the population is, in both cases, concentrated around the lowlands, with the inner, more mountainous areas being less fortunate in this regard, while also acting as a natural barrier against mobility between more populated areas.Notable differences between the two regions are the fact that Sardinia is more remote as an island in the Western Mediterranean, while the North-West Region of Romania shares a border with Hungary and Ukraine, making it a gateway to Western Europe and more attractive for investments (ADRNV, 2021). Also, Sardinia has around 1.6 million people, while the North-West Region has 2.5 million and also a slightly smaller area (24,090 km2 compared to 34,159 km2 respectively). Finally, while the for-mer has very few municipalities, with an aver-age number of inhabitants (notably Cagliari as the most populous and prosper city), the latter has several urban centers, including Cluj-Napoca, which is the country’s second largest and most important city after the capital, then the cities of Oradea, Satu Mare and Baia Mare, all counting over 100,000 inhabitants.

The paper outlines some common strategies for the construction of new relationships be-tween rural spaces and urban contexts, which can contribute to solve some stratified problems related to ecological, infrastructural and economic dimensions. According to the bioregional approach, the protection of the soil capacity and the enhancement of agricultural uses can support the definition of strategies to improve the provision of ecosystem services, which are essential to ensure an adequate quality of life, while promoting the development of local agricultural supply chains.The phenomenon of “return to the land” could support a regional economy in crisis, promoting, at the same time, local processes of self-determination and ecological preservation of the territory, in the direction of the conservation of agro biodiversity (Pinzello, Schilleci, 2014; Poli, 2014).


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