We should create more identity in this turbulent world by setting an anchor.
The development of a sense of home is a matter of the heart and personal happiness. Politics should not simply ignore this desire for security and overburden uprooted people.
We need to achieve a balanced adjustment by employing a dual strategy of attachment to one’s homeland and a progressive approach.
We should also protect regional identity from the power claims of central government and international institutions such as the European Union. Because the heart of the people and national identity beat at home.
We need both: transnational cooperation (for example in foreign, security and monetary policy) as well as diverse local and regional responsibilities where politicians still communicate directly with the people.
You can even go one step further: The more global the world becomes in people’s perception, the more homeland many long for. That is deeply human. Politicians must take this need very seriously.
We have two problems: The desertification of rural areas and simultaneously the de-humanisation of cities. What both have in common is the desire for security, for an environment worth living in, where people like to live happily.
While cities are bursting at the seams, loneliness in rural areas is increasing all over the world. The youth is moving to the metropolitan areas.
In Beijing you find the same shops as in London, similar high-rise buildings, hardly anything originally Chinese. The cities, too, must create more of a local identity in the districts, preserve good traditions, convey familiarity and warmth. The regional and distinctive character of cities is vanishing. The cherished neighborhoods featuring small shops, restaurants, old buildings, squares, gardens and a local atmosphere are in danger. The ground floors of city dwellings resemble dull shopping centres exhibiting the same brands and cheap sales. The inner cities are desolate. They lack an attractive mix of strong brand retailers and local suppliers or cultural institutions.
Urban elite attitudes dominate the media and parliaments.
But for successful policy, we also need the support of the population in rural areas and small cities. They need individual mobility allowing them to drive their own car to distant cities, schools, administrative authorities, physicians, shopping facilities as well as to their village pub or restaurant. What is necessary is the protection of their local culture. We should take the specific concerns of people living outside of the large urban centres much more seriously.
Supporting people in small towns and villages must become a political priority.
We should try out completely new concepts paving the way to a future in which people do not dwell in big cities only. This includes the entire local infrastructure, transport routes, fast communications, trade, industry, administration, culture and sport. Much more creativity and testing new ideas are needed.
- We need a Minister for Home and a new policy for local anchoring.
- Copy global best practices: The Federal Rural Development Programme of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture tests and promotes innovative approaches to rural development. These include multi-functional buildings with a rural doctor’s practice, care centres, a club room, library, municipal office, post office and bank under one roof. Or village caretakers and local neighbourhood assistance.
- There is a regular shortage of doctors in rural areas. The federal state of Brandenburg in Germany has set up a support programme. Medical students receive a monthly scholar- ship of € 1000 from the Minister of Health if they work in the countryside for at least five years after graduation.
- In most cities, large retail chains dominate the historic city centre. Small owner-managed traditional shops are often no longer able to pay the rising rents. The city of Munich in Bavaria lets 73 shops from its real estate portfolio in the old town at preferential prices and a lower share of turnover (3.5 to 10 percent). Each city should appoint a city centre manager. He or she should develop an attractive utilisation concept and creative a mix with local offers, art and culture, living and working, seating and green spaces.
- In Paris, hundreds of small shops that make up the typical flair of the districts are effectively promoted by the non-profit organisation “Semaest” with a local right of first refusal on shop premises. The rent is one third below the market value. Small booksellers in particular receive support against Amazon. The support is also extended to many local butchers, fruit dealers or cheese shops. President Emmanuel Macron launched a € 5 billion “City Heart Action Project” based on this Paris model. The aim is to revitalise the city centres in 222 French cities.
- In 2018, the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the Free State of Bavaria provided € 30 million for the first time to support village pubs. Since 2006, a quarter of local Gasthäuser has closed down. 500 communities no longer have village pubs, which often constitute the communicative heart of the community.