5. Bridging gaps with rural remote, low-density and mountain areas

The specificity of the geographical analysis of rural areas focuses on its spatial dimension. Rural geography has repeatedly shown the heterogeneity of rural systems across the space. It is common that researchers describe a distinction between, on the one hand, rural areas experiencing positive dynamics (i.e. in economic and population terms) and, on the other hand, rural areas subjected to persistent problems. In the latter, for instance, rural flight is still observable, following a pattern that has been occurring across the world since the industrial revolution. In general terms areas from which people leave have been described as being in trouble for decades. Service levels and infrastructure provision is regularly reported as significantly lower than that available in cities or in other rural areas, despite the development policies that have been applied. For this reason, this thematic session deals with the geography of those rural spaces lagging behind.

There are different ways to refer to these areas. For instance, in the European Union some of the geographical typologies developed by ESPON map precisely those regions considered remote, sparsely populated and mountainous. In bigger countries such as Australia or Canada there is a geographical concept, remoteness, which is generally correlated to low density, fragility, marginalisation and depopulation. In the case of France, Kayser (1990) compared the campagne vivante (“countryside alive”) to those areas being depopulated and marginalised; more recently, the latter have been labelled as “the more fragile countryside” (Jean and Périgord, 2009) and “weak density areas” (Barthe and Millan, 2011).

This thematic session welcomes contributions around these questions:

> How can we demarcate low-density areas, mountainous areas, remote areas and rural marginal areas? To what extent does the tyranny of distance still apply? How do they overlap? What types of features distinguish them?

> How do we bridge the gap between the rural areas lagging behind and other rural and urban areas?

> What are the possibilities of rural-urban partnerships and governance?

> What are the policies (especially rural development policies) applied in these remote, low-density and/or mountainous areas and why are they commonly perceived as failures?