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Urban dwellers suffer most from lack of rural/urban infrastructure

When people think of infrastructure, they typically think of public transport – especially in city areas. 

‘The city logic is especially present when it comes to infrastructure,’ says Pia Heike Johansen, who is fundamentally trying to give the countryside a voice by starting with the citizens. Her undertaking is to make their voice heard in a social discourse that is otherwise typically characterised by urban logics. 

We need to rethink the meaning of infrastructure

‘Infrastructure is not just about public transport; it’s about the ability to move between places,’ points out Pia Heike Johansen.

She explains that infrastructure can be specifically about movement and the ability to get from A to B. 

‘Those who live in the countryside often live there because they want to, not because they want to get away from it,’ she explains, which is why infrastructure between villages is particularly important.

Green infrastructure can be implemented relatively easily in the countryside. Pia Heike Johansen points out, for example, that this could be done by allowing landowners and farmers to open up paths through field roads that do not have to affect their farming.

The problem right now is that many cycle and walking paths are either parallel with or close to busy main roads, and it is not necessarily safe to send either your children or yourself out on these paths.

‘Infrastructure should not just be thought of as public transport but as safe transport options,’ points out Pia Heike Johansen. This could be through field roads and postal routes that make it easier for cyclists and walkers to move between villages.

Relationship between village and city centre

The discourse typically revolves around the fact that bus and train routes should be planned to allow access to the city centre. However, the notion that rural citizens find it difficult to access cities is not immediately sound.

We are constantly orienting ourselves around city centres, and one of the things that characterises the way we understand infrastructure is that it is often about moving from the country to the city. This notion should be rethought.

‘Often, people don’t live in the countryside because they want to go to the city centre. Instead, people typically orient themselves towards their neighbouring towns,’ explains Pia Heike Johansen, adding that getting rural citizens into the city centre is not the biggest problem. In fact, it’s typically more difficult for city dwellers to get out into the countryside.

‘If you live in a city and want to go to the countryside, you are often much more immobile. Most people in a city don’t have a car: those in the countryside do. This means that if city dwellers want to go for a walk in the woods, to the beach or to walk in the countryside, they can’t really do it.

Therefore, those who are most constrained by the lack of rural-urban infrastructure are the urban dwellers,’ she says. 

The challenges in villages are therefore quite different from those in the city centre.

‘Everyday movement between villages is much more relevant,’ says Pia Heike Johansen. Indeed, functions are often dispersed, with the grocer in one town, the school in another, the doctor’s office in a third and leisure activities in a fourth. The challenge may therefore be to travel by public transport between villages and not necessarily from village to city.

We must look back to look forward

In the cities, most things are within walking distance. This is not necessarily the case in the countryside. 

Because of the longer distances between activities and services in the countryside, many villagers are forced to travel to the city centre to access various activities and services. In the past, there were mobile libraries, where the library drove around the village with books for lending. Initiatives such as these can and perhaps should also be considered in a contemporary context. 

This could be done by:

  • Doctors driving to the citizens
  • Bread, fish and meat vans (and others) arriving 1–2 times a week in the village, where citizens can gather and shop
  • Mobile podiatrists in village halls

Today, we are used to grouping different services together, for example, in shopping centres.

‘If we look at the underlying logics, they are not very obvious,’ points out Pia Heike Johansen and suggests that we focus on establishing some mobile units and look back at how we did it in the past and learn from this. 

‘A mobile understanding of private and public services will actually help to create much of the rural life that in many places is a little bit lacking. Because suddenly everyone is queuing up at the fish van once a week, and that way you meet each other in a different way than if everyone goes to the supermarket at random times,’ she explains.

‘We are so used to thinking that the more things that are gathered in one supermarket, and the more people who are gathered in one place, the better. But that just isn’t right.’

Pia Heike Johansen

Pia Heike Johansen is a sociologist and currently works at the Centre for Rural Research at SDU in Esbjerg. She works from a sociological perspective on rural-urban relations, with a particular interest in quality of life, land use, rural-urban migration, rural infrastructure and rural culture.

Tried and possible solutions for more mobile transport options

  •   Electric scooters and electric bicycles available at stations
  •  Loaner cars at stations
  • Possibility to bring your bike on the bus
  • City buses between villages
  • Carpooling schemes via apps for travelling to/from leisure interests
  • Free taxi services for young people
  • Make travel time part of working time when it is possible to work while travelling

Last Updated 01.03.2023