Demographic crisis, liveable territories and inclusion

Several European territories are affected by a deep demographic crisis. That's the case of Galicia. They are facing a common challenge. The particular shape and intensity of that change has influence on the opportunities and the quality of life of people dwelling those shrinking areas. The Welfare State, thus, faces a territorial challenge, a challenge in terms of equity and sustainability.

It's urgent to minimize and compensate the effects of a prospective territorial exclusion affecting specific areas, namely rural ones, which characterise by a severe shrinking and ageing of their populations. It's necessary to identify where and when citizens and communities have serious difficulties in developing life plans which could be regarded as comparable to those that can be developedby people living in the mainstream territories. And it's necessary, as well, to re-think and re-plan public services –particularly welfare services, in order to be responsive to those people's basic human needs and to give them a real chance to develop their human capacities all along their life cycle. In addition, this is an opportunity for innovation, just when family and neighbours networks are weakening, when the public sector is not sufficient and the for-profit sector is gone.

So, at the same time and from other point of view, the moment and the situation are also an opportunity to re-map the declining territories and to make them socially and economically viable, in such a way that either remaining living there or coming from outside to start a new life,could both be deemed feasible choices. Territories currently in decline still have potential in terms of labour and social inclusion. But for that purpose it is vital to revise and change the way of looking at them, the usual assumptions, the way of planning and the actions developed by the public powers.

The Symbios Project, as a part of the Galician ESF Operative Programme (Axis 4), aims at facilitating a transnational and transregional exchange of knowledge and practice; at analysing with rigour what is really happening; at exchanging and disseminating experiences, projects and alternatives; at formulating, in a participative way, proposals and recommendations.

As a condition to find the right answers, a new design of the territory is necessary; a design where certain locations, impulse nucleuses, help to boost the whole influencing area, becoming friendly villages for all generations and, accordingly to the 2020 Strategy, might perform as smart, sustainable and inclusive habitats.

Reducing the effects of the demographic change is not only about public resources and policies, nor only depending on private enterprises. That's the reason why SYMBIOS project look into reinforcing the symbiosis amongst the public sector and those endeavours initiated by the communities themselves, as well as the localsocial-economy sector (e.g.cooperatives). The aim is bridging and improving cooperation amongst the various community actors, the innovating entrepreneurship and the public policies.

The crisis that the project is tackling has indeed not-desirable side-effects. Those effects go beyond the Social Services Systems, which mainly focuses on services to facilitate social inclusion, work-family balance and personal autonomy. Territorial exclusion of rural areas has very much to do with activating local endogenous economic resources –both agricultural and not-agricultural-;with long-life learning; with environmental degradation; with loss of material and in-material heritage; with broad-band access for all; with finance exclusion and real distance to the doctor or the pharmacy. Territorial exclusion has social effects but is a cross-section issue, affecting the whole set of public policies.

Open discussion is needed on the future we want for a big deal of our territories. And that debate must take into consideration various urgent aspects, such as the future cost of not acting now; the need of new efforts and innovation by the various stakeholders and also the need to make the best use of the scarce public resources. And, of course, the need of a new symbiosis and cooperation amongst the public sector, the private sector, the non-profit sector and the community-at-large.