Rural areas are simply home for many people - a place to live, work, and raise a family. Our rural communities require jobs, basic services, connectivity, and smart transportation solutions, as well as an enabling environment for entrepreneurship. We must encourage the development of new business models, such as portal-based services, and assist existing rural businesses in better connecting, integrating, and cooperating with urban businesses. The recognition of 'geographical capital' and other possible comparative advantages for specialization or diversification is linked to the location of economic activity. Intelligent logistics networks would enable villages to provide their products and services on urban and global markets more efficiently.
The emerging concept of Smart Villages refers to rural areas and communities that capitalize on their existing strengths and assets while also creating new ones. Traditional and new networks and services are enhanced in Smart Villages through the use of digital, telecommunications, and innovation, as well as better knowledge utilization, for the benefit of residents and businesses. Digital technologies and innovations may improve the quality of life, raise the standard of living, provide public services to citizens, make better use of resources, have a lower environmental impact, and provide new opportunities for rural value chains in terms of products and improved processes. The Smart Villages concept does not propose a one-size-fits-all solution.
It is territorially sensitive, based on the needs and potentials of the respective territory, and strategy-led, with new or existing territorial strategies supporting it. Investments in infrastructure, business development, human capital, capacity, and community building are all important. Good governance and citizen participation are also essential. A Smart Village would typically focus on e-literacy skills, access to e-health and other basic services, innovative solutions for environmental concerns, circular economy application to agricultural waste, promotion of local products supported by technology and ICT, implementation and full utilization of smart specialization agri-food projects, tourism and cultural activities, and so on.
The European Smart Villages Forum (ESVF) envisions a resilient, just, democratic, and cohesive Europe in which citizens refocus on their local face-to-face communities and take pride in their remote and rural communities. Technology is implemented intelligently, which means it is coherent, sustainable, and synergistic, in order to improve the quality of life of every citizen and empower people to focus on what is important to their families and self-fulfillment. When smart technology tools are interconnected and constantly communicate with one another, the resulting new smart infrastructure will be greater than the sum of its parts and will constantly improve due to its ability to self-adjust.
“Rural areas are the fabric of our society and the heartbeat of our economy. They are a core part of our identity and our economic potential. We will cherish and preserve our rural areas and invest in their future.”
– Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
With these words, the European Commission presented a long-term vision for the EU's rural areas on June 30, 2021, identifying challenges and highlighting some of the most promising opportunities for these regions. The Vision proposes a Rural Pact and an EU Rural Action Plan to make rural Europe stronger, more connected, resilient, and prosperous, as well as a number of flagship initiatives, including Smart Villages. The ESVF's mission is nothing less than to change the way we live in Europe. A sustainable way of life in which we are in touch with our natural environment and food production and live our lives consciously with the help of smart, synergized technology that guides our daily behavior toward a healthy and sustainable life. We want to create a political environment in the EU that encourages the use of smart technologies in rural areas. As a result, the pressing demographic challenge of land flight is met. The ESVF's path will be to bridge the gap between politics, business, and civil society, with the goal of smartly developing and elevating rural, remote, sparsely populated, and mountainous areas into the twenty-first century. We believe that by bringing diverse stakeholders together under the umbrella of a single organization with a clear goal, we can make the case for renewed interest in those areas.