Perspectives on rural community development
DOI link for Perspectives on rural community development
Perspectives on rural community development book
The second thematic section further broadens the scope of the book by emphasizing international scholarship on community development in ageing hinterland regions. The companion sections in Part II are concerned with the specific processes, outcomes, and experiences of rural population ageing, and the specific dynamics and experiences of rural voluntarism in resource communities. This section focuses specifically on the interrelationships between resource frontier ageing and rural community development. Rural and small town places in resource-producing regions have specific characteristics that impact their capacity to cope with economic and demographic change. Historically, these places typically developed with a relatively narrow economic focus, often focused upon a single industry or company. They often had a younger working-age population, which meant that concerns around population ageing and providing a good quality of life for older residents were never significant factors in decision-making or infrastructure investment. More recently, youth out-migration, economic decline, service closure, and workforce ageing in place have together negatively impacted local capacity to respond to change, and increased the need to have a community vision that supports all ages and stages of life. The following three chapters from Norway, New Zealand, and Canada highlight very similar stories. That is, they point to the need to better understand population ageing within the unique context of resource-dependent regions so that policy and practice may respond more effectively. The first chapter in this section is by Gjertsen, Ryser, and Halseth (Chapter 8). With a focus upon northern Norway, the chapter examines a story of more universal import for resource-dependent hinterlands – closure and change in a traditional economic sector. In the case of Gamvik Municipality, this industry is fishing and related fish processing. While changes and closures have been the result of global and national economic and policy decisions, it is the stakeholders within the municipality that are left to respond. Building upon a regional economic development workshop supported by Finnmark University College, various people and organizations in Gamvik have embarked on a multifaceted approach to both community development and community economic development. The key to this multifaceted approach is diversification of the economy and the population. Diversification of the economy is being built upon a wider
evaluation of the region’s rich natural environment (especially its fish-related resources), while diversification of the population has focused attention on attracting and retaining both younger and older households. In Gamvik, a strong vision by the municipality, the active participation of key leaders in various sectors, and the efforts of a range of volunteer and non-profit organizations have been critical to success. In terms of the diversification of the local population, the chapter reports specifically on the processes of workers ageing in place, the in-migration of working-age families, the seasonal in-migration of older households, and the return migration of older former residents. The chapter argues that one of the reasons for these multiple streams of ageing is that Gamvik is focusing quite significantly on the provision of high-quality local services. As part of this policy initiative, the municipality wishes to become known as a ‘good place to grow old’. To help realize this initiative, the chapter highlights the role of the municipality and a range of volunteer and non-profit organizations (five of which are profiled) who work independently and collaboratively. Like many resourcedependent regions, Gamvik continues to face challenges, but since the regional development workshop it has strengthened its civil society capacity to respond to demographic change. The second chapter in this section is by Lovell, Gray, and Boucher (Chapter 9). It is a case study, built from a mixed-method approach, set in a small town in southern New Zealand. As with Gamvik, Mataura has been struggling with long-term decline and closure in its agricultural and processing industries. To respond to the economic and demographic challenges posed by what the authors refer to as the ‘decoupling’ of rural communities from their historical agricultural ties, Mataura must increasingly rely upon its community capacity and voluntary sector organizations. The chapter opens with an interest in community capacity and resilience – specifically the ability of places and people to ‘bounce back’. These are important topics as places with greater capacity are better positioned to advocate and secure resources on behalf of residents and may prevent erosion of services during difficult economic times. Like with the following chapter, Lovell et al. are concerned about the neo-liberal erosion of the welfare state and its longer-term contribution to rural decline through impacts on community capacity and resilience. Through their case study, the authors found that community capacity was negatively impacted by the processes of economic decline. They also found that, while voluntary organizations and the processes of volunteering do provide psycho-social benefits for those who actively participate, they did not appear to provide an effective buffer against economic decline. The chapter by Markey, Halseth, and Ryser (Chapter 10) is a Canadian contribution that examines the historical context and future implications of population ageing in the small towns of northern British Columbia’s (BC) resource hinterland. Their argument has two key elements. The first is that the trajectory of past policy and community development investments has a momentum that impacts current and future efforts to address successful and healthy ageing. The second is that all such efforts and responses will be embedded within individual places and, thus, attention is needed to local capacities and assets, as well as
local aspirations, around their desired future economy and community. Using the case of northern BC, they identify a number of ‘drivers of uncertainty’. These are political/policy shifts, economic shifts, and demographic change. They suggest that these three imperatives escalate the complexity of town planning and service delivery for rural and small town communities. In the absence of significant senior government attention, and investment into services and supports for population ageing in small resource hinterland places, they suggest that a place-based approach encompassing the ‘whole community’ is a potentially fruitful foundation upon which to create communities that are welcoming for people of ‘all ages and stages of life’. Resource-based communities are being transformed by economic restructuring, changing policy frameworks and programme supports, and, most pertinently in the interests of this book, changing demographics. For places that are experiencing growth in older populations, community leaders and organizations must confront important questions about their mandates, where they invest precious resources, and how they strategically approach community development and community economic development. As the research in this section demonstrates, leaders must be ready to recognize and pursue opportunities – something that requires attention to renewing both individual and organizational capacities that reflect the context, needs, and aspirations of place. It equally calls for a coordinated approach to nurture and efficiently mobilize those community assets in order to build a community for all ages and stages of life.