Depopulated Catalonia deserves a chance
There are eleven counties in Catalonia with less than 20,000 inhabitants. Some - the Alta Ribagorça, the Pallars Sobirà or the Priorat - do not even reach 10,000. They are all inland counties. The Catalan population is concentrated in the Barcelona metropolitan region, on the coast (with Tarragona-Reus, Girona-Empordà and all the tourist attractions) and around the city of Lleida. The dream of Catalonia as a noucentista city has not come true, nor has the previous spirit of Ildefons Cerdà of ruralizing (naturalizing) the city and urbanizing the countryside. The country remains unbalanced. In fact, after the initial wave of emigration from the countryside to the city during the first industrial revolution (19th century), the moment of real depopulation of rural areas began in the post-Franco war period and has practically not stopped until today. Just a century ago, the Mancomunitat (Commonwealth of Catalonia) wanted to provide modern services (roads, telephone, school, agricultural cooperative...) to towns, a project that the Republican Generalitat did not have time to take up again. Franco's regime further impoverished the countryside. The desarrolismo (Developmentalism) was an urban phenomenon.
With democracy, despite the recovery of regions and the promotion of self-government and town councils, the rebalancing has not fully arrived. Inland Catalonia still lacks basic health and educational services, as well as internet connection. Road communications have improved, but public transport has not. Often, moreover, it is burdened with infrastructures that nobody wants: rubbish dumps, wind farms, nuclear power stations... Youngsters do not have enough incentives to stay. Nor are there any incentives to attract new neighbours. The resource of rural tourism is not enough. In fact, there is a lack of a global and transversal plan, led by the administrations and with the participation of the private sector and social agents. There have been initiatives, such as that of Priorat and its the candidacy to make its landscape a UNESCO heritage site. But it had little public support. Administrative fragmentation does not help. The Generalitat and the provincial councils are too far away from the small towns, the county councils have little power and the town halls are too small.
The pandemic has perhaps created the occasion to rethink the territory, with modernising ambitions, sensitivity for the country, and without fear. The boom in teleworking is undoubtedly an opportunity. But political leadership is needed. We must listen to the people of the villages. We need resources. Depopulated Catalonia deserves a chance.