Good broadband, accessible housing and a vibrant community life are key to the development of so-called ‘smart villages’, a study has found.
The concept is borrowed from the urban planning trend for ‘smart cities’, where technology is harnessed to provide services and solve problems.
Experts suggest the same methods could be applied to rural settlements to revitalise villages and stop migration to towns and cities.
Lourdes Pérez, an academic from Toulouse Business School and co-author of the study of rural life in Europe, found that the most successful rural areas share common traits.
“We were looking at all of Europe, but the results are very applicable to France,” she told The Connexion.
“For some time now, there has been the concept of ‘smart cities’, which has extended from simply having good computers and systems to manage things like traffic lights to looking at social and environmental factors as well.
We wanted to see if this approach could also be applied to villages.”
She said the study found broadband plays a pivotal role in rural areas that are growing their populations and economies.
This is a challenge in France, where the government commission charged with installing fibre-optic cable has declared the job a success with just 70% of the country covered.
“It comes down to political will, and local politicians must keep up pressure on government to make sure things happen,” Dr Pérez said.
“When good broadband arrives, it attracts other things too, such as businesses and home-workers from cities.
It’s essential.” In terms of housing, she said authorities must find ways of making it accessible for everyone.
“Across Europe, there are properties in villages which are not lived in for various reasons.
Getting more people into these houses, and making sure young people do not have to leave to find somewhere to live, is very important,” Dr Pérez said.
A final factor driving the revitalisation of rural villages is a strong community life, largely through local associations.
“These are often led by ‘committed champions’ and these individuals play an important role, but authorities can do a lot to support them,” she said.