The need for urban-rural cooperation is due to social, economic and environmental interdependencies between cities and their rural surrounds. Cooperation is beneficial in addressing common challenges and making optimal use of available resources. It can favourably influence territorial development by reducing existing intrinsic differences between rural and urban areas and by promoting economic opportunities. This text provides an overview of insights from the RUMORE project partnership, to discuss success factors crucial for moving cooperation forward as well as obstacles to be overcome.
A main success factor for urban-rural partnerships has been the promotion of win-win situations and mutual understanding about benefits that cooperation can realise. Mutual understanding can be encouraged by defining shared goals and setting common agendas for both urban and rural policy, and further facilitated by elaborating new common visions to foster existing and new territory connections. The official agreement “Milan Rural Metropoly”, for example illustrates a successful innovative governance approach for balancing urban and rural development in the metropolitan territory of Milan.
Among key prerequisites for cooperation is the interest and early engagement of relevant stakeholders in the public and private sphere. Various financial incentives from European, national or local funds can incentivise the initiation of new partnerships and stakeholder participation. Joint projects can serve as boosting agents of exchange and learning at European level and can promote new cooperation processes at the local level. Two-way communication and information flows play a major role in fostering cooperation processes. Neighbourhood forums such as Hamburg´s peri-urban area forums have shown how strong dialogues on common challenges can be built, while platforms such as the Open Innovation Platform Lombardy have illustrated how collaboration can be encouraged between parties with different interests and demands.
Experiences show clearly that the development and implementation of ideas is easier where cooperation has been established and has a tradition. Building upon and extending existing structures, networks and projects is a beneficial way to motivate more actors to work together on common themes. Permanent thematic networks and clusters can be established to assist the exchange of information. Organisations such as the Agro-Food Partnership in Central Macedonia, for example has been successful in uniting urban and rural area stakeholders in proactive discussions.
Despite incentives, cooperation efforts are often inhibited. A major obstacle for cooperation between rural and urban actors is the lack of trust between parties and their divergent agendas. The lack of experience in cooperation and the existence of hierarchical structures form part of the obstacle towards establishing a common dialogue. In the meantime, the competition on for example inhabitants, housing and industrial parks could widen the divide between urban and rural areas.
As a result of top-down regional policies, cooperation can be further inhibited, when stakeholders perceive local knowledge of networks and heritage is unrepresented. To address this issue, regional policies should aim to promote the strong interdependences between urban and rural areas. They should follow a functional approach, in which the spatial scale of cooperation depends on the purpose and thematic focus of the partnership. Targeted cooperation which is based on thematic interests can further help motivate stakeholder cooperation and common goal development.