Versatile countryside

Posted on Thursday, 16 October, 2008 by

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Here you see me. I am working in the middle of fields with oaks and cows. Birds twittering. In the background is a tiny hamlet in the de-populating Alentejo region, Sta Sofia.
In the (also deserted) village school of Sta Sofia, the children of assorted Dutch immigrants living all over the Alentejo, follow dutch lessons a few hours a week. (The children visit normal portuguese day schools.) I can work from here, doing phonecalls with the Netherlands using VoIP, while waiting for my kids to finish, to drive the 60 km back home.

This afternoon I was phoning Dutch experts who specialize in “a versatile countryside”, to discuss a project called Guus. In the actual Dutch rural development discours, farming is not much of a hot issue, but anything else you can do in the countryside is. Farmers cannot sustain farms, and instead develop small businesses for tourism, recreation, hosting meetings and management incentives, meeting locations, taking care of the elderly, childrens’ parties, anything goes. This trend is now named “versatile countryside”, and it helps to keep the countryside healthy in both economic and social sense.

In Portugal, we see it is late. Large parts of the Alentejo, including Sta Sofia, are poor places to live, with a low service level. The joys of mobile Internet, or the versatile countryside trend, or Guus, will not easily alter that.

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