Television broadcasting companies can get very inventive when it comes to creating endless amounts of new primetime reality and quiz shows. That is what I discovered as I glanced through the lengthy list of television programmes after an ordinary weekday. One of them, however, caught my special attention; it was a quiz show called City vs. Countryside. The core idea was close to any other primetime show that has ever existed on commercial TV entertainment; let two teams compete against each other by answering questions related to general knowledge – and voilà, you have lured the viewer on the couch for an extra hour.
One of the teams represented the countryside, whereas members of the other team came from the Finnish capital district. Besides answering questions, the show was flavored with some gentle nagging between the two teams premised on a stereotypical dichotomy between country bumpkins and arrogant city dwellers.
The show would be like any other of its light counterparts on television if it wasn’t for its surprisingly current content. The United Nations has estimated that 2008 was the breaking point when already half of the world population lived in centralized urban areas. The number has risen ever since and a projection by the UN estimates that by 2050, no less than 68 percent of the world’s population will be urban.
Finland is one example of those countries getting hit by the alarming reality of urbanisation where people increasingly escape countryside to settle in bustling cities. And why wouldn’t they? Regardless of country in question, big urban centres tend to offer them all; social networks, career opportunities and a lifestyle where a new activity is waiting for you behind every stone-paved corner.
There comes the backside of the coin, however. About fifty percent of the Finnish population is packed in a relatively small area in the southern part of the country, while the rest of the land is left with increasingly desolating municipal communes and hectares of forested wilderness. Even globally, we can discover a clear division between urban people and those who live further away from the attractions of bigger cities. And there are no others to blame; I personally live right next to the services provided by the capital Helsinki.
The polarisation has become so strong that a person’s habitat can be a factor that defines his or her identity even more than nationality. Transport links between global cities have become so strong that it is usually easier to fly to another country than to try to get oneself to a place in the middle of nowhere within a country’s borders. That inevitably shapes the sense of belonging, which is not necessarily a bad thing understanding the potential of growing internationality and invaluable connections between different cultures. It still, however, raises questions about the grand might possessed by mushrooming global metropoles and the insecure future of the rural environment.
Are skyscrapers today’s ivory towers?
As much as I love the never-ending buzz of grand cities, I understand the urgent need to revive the spirit of the countryside, too. Fortunately, Finns understand how lucky they are to be able to escape the everyday treadmill of duties to the boondocks. I am writing this text by the lake next to our summer cottage which has always been a nearly sacred place for me to relax and enjoy myself. It is common that many Finnish families have a similar kind of summer house in the countryside, where they spend time near the forest especially during the summer months.
That could also be a partial answer to the challenge of inhabitation; even if flows of people mainly go to the opposite direction, rural areas can promote themselves as attractive tourist destinations. In the case of Finland, many companies have already productized the silence of Finnish nature; even if it might sound weird, many foreign tourists have been fascinated by the idea of escaping the constant noise of big cities, enjoying perfect peace and getting surrounded by a scenery of clear blue lake and evergreen.
And it is not just the nature, though. There are many promising examples where rural communities have been very creative in making the most of their hidden charm. A recent Babel Tower article has already given us insight into a tiny French village called Montignac, which has rooted an international music festival as part of its annual traditions (read this article here). Also, there is a Spanish town that has successfully transformed itself into a big outdoor gallery focused on street art. It is quite reassuring to notice that cash is not the only way to support regions that are economically less developed. Even artistic innovations can have a similar effect on regional development.
How to get the boost?
Naturally, these initiatives can be important steps that bring wealth and vitality to the rural area, but they won’t necessarily provide for livelihood nor prevent these communities from turning into ghost towns outside the tourist season. The magic trick that these areas long for is to attract people and make them stay year-round, which is even harder than creating attractive tourist lures. However, there are forerunners. I read about a Sicilian town that decided to show its goodwill, and benefit from it at the same time, too. Triggered by the miserable human destinies that the migration crisis has caused in Europe for several years, the town of Sutera decided to offer migrants free accommodation and Italian lessons to help them integrate and settle in the community. Despite some whining, the town has seen a new era of vitality through these extraordinary measures. More and more often human creativity proves to be stronger than challenges that face us.
Urbanisation is a global megatrend, and we should not fight it. Yet even if most of us finds it more convenient to live urban, it doesn’t diminish the importance of brave human initiatives of revitalising the countryside. And that is where the quiz show gets it wrong; instead of setting urban and rural areas against each other, we should understand the potential of creating a symbiotic relationship between them. So, next time you have a chance, don’t be afraid to burst your city bubble; you can be amazed by what you discover.
 “How embracing graffiti stopped one Spanish village going to the wall,” The Guardian, accessed August 11th, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/apr/14/street-art-fanzara-spain-graffiti-artists
 “‘They are our salvation’: the Sicilian town revived by refugees”, The Guardian, accessed August 11th, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/19/sutera-italy-the-sicilian-town-revived-by-refugees
 Sarah Warwick & Anastasia Miari, “How to save a town,” The n magazine, July 28th, 2018, 67-74.