05/07/2021

Rural depopulation and urban inequality

2 min
Panoràmica de La Vajol, in Alt Empordà, is one of the 200 at risk of depopulation

One of the most worrying phenomena in western societies is inequality. In general and with all its derivatives, essentially economic, territorial and socio-cultural. Failure to ensure that almost the entire population is within a range of homologous welfare, especially low incomes, is a failure in itself and because of the negative consequences that it entails in the long run for the entire population, whatever their income. Historically, any large-scale conflict demonstrates this. Today, the pandemic and the quest for maximum effectiveness in vaccination are no less starkly in front of our eyes. Either we all move forward, at the pace required by the context of each group, or we will not get ahead. Or at least not efficiently.

Today we publish two pieces of information on imbalance and inequality. A study by the UdL (University of Lleida) with monitoring of indicators since 2000 calculates in 200 the municipalities in Catalonia (20% of the 947 in total) with a clear risk of depopulation. Very old population, undiversified economic activity and very low level of services are the key elements. It is precisely the pandemic - lockdown - that has benefited some small towns with the arrival of new neighbours, who on their own initiative (with or without administrative incentives) have left cities, either accelerating previous plans or as a direct consequence of the coronavirus

But if we want a progressive but unrestrained advances, these movements will not be the long-term solution for territorial rebalancing as long as there is no improvement of the services that rural areas offer. And from this combination will come economic diversification. That is to say, individual initiative or the temporary stimulus of a small town council is not enough.

At the same time, we have new data on income inequality in Barcelona. The City Council has been able to refine its calculations, narrowing the focus to the census sections and using tax data from the INE. And we find that the richest census section of the city (within the district of Tres Torres) is five times larger than the average annual family income of the poorest census section (in the district of Besòs and Maresme), which in turn is not within the district with the lowest income (Ciutat Vella) and is quite far from the neighbourhood with the lowest income (Ciutat Meridiana). And also that within the district of the richest area (Sarrià-Sant Gervasi) there is a census section in Les Planes with an income below those of Ciutat Vella or Nou Barris. In short, the distribution of inequality is complex, and the obvious corrective factor of the public sector (Nou Barris is an example) has to be echoed in order to become more surgical. Also to avoid being the only driving force in these areas.

Neither of the two scenarios, rural depopulation nor metropolitan inequality, are new. On the contrary, they carry an inertia that is difficult to reverse. However, neither will the former be solved through individual, family or municipal decisions, nor can the latter bu dealt with through the administration's intervention alone. We need a long-term national policy, with territorial synergies, with public-private collaboration and far removed from partisan struggle.

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