Why do young people leave their rural homes?
Words by VALERIA RIVERA
Green and peaceful rural areas are becoming the new home of many adults in the UK, in search in search of tranquil spaces. Nevertheless, this does not apply to the younger generations. Since 2010, outward migration from rural to urban areas has constantly increased in the 18-24 age group (United Kingdom Government – ONS, 2018). This migration has created an age gap in rural communities, which puts their future in danger. If this phenomenon continues, by 2039 almost half of the population of rural areas will be aged 65 and older (Jackson, 2017). Why is this happening? Youngsters are being forced to leave their homes and pursue their dreams elsewhere due to a lack of work and education opportunities, heightened by a deficient public transport system.
After surveying more than 100 people aged 18-24, the results showed that two out of three respondents decided to leave their hometown and move to an urban city. The main factors that influenced this decision were; education opportunities, work opportunities, access to health care, social life and a general access to goods and services. Education was the most common answer; 65% of the people who moved decided to do so in search of higher education. The second reason was work opportunities, proving to be the deciding factor of 15% of those who migrated. It is crucial to point out that transport plays a main role in these issues.
Given that most universities and businesses are located in urban cities, residents of rural areas need to move long distances to study or work. These costs are significant, in terms of time and money. As is the case of Leon, a 20-year-old university student: “Getting from my house to my University in Reading would take me at least two hours by public transport. This is the reason why I decided to live on campus instead”. Furthermore, in most rural areas, public transport is not easy to access, which increases a reliance on cars as the main means of transport. This implies that young adults are more dependent on their parents to get a lift (which complicates their routines) or purchase a car, which leads to expenses in maintenance and insurance, that can rise up to £200/month (Storey and Brannen, 2000). Due to these difficulties, young people feel that they must leave to be able to succeed.
Once these young adults leave their hometown, they settle in a bigger city and are convinced that if they stay they will have a better future. One of the most shocking results found in the survey was not that young people were leaving, but the fact that almost 50% were not planning on moving back and 22% were still very unsure. They prefer to stay in urban areas to have better access and opportunities, which is endangering rural communities. “I am not planning on moving back until after having kids, I can find better opportunities here in London” said Tobias, 22 years old.
Ghost towns have become trending topics in many countries and, although this hasn’t become a big problem in the United Kingdom yet, it may arise in the near future. The outward migration of young people from rural areas that we are currently experiencing could lead to a similar situation.
This is the case of Ollolai, a town in the middle of Sardinia, Italy. This town was on the verge of extinction as people started fleeing to bigger towns once they were presented with better job offers elsewhere. To reverse this trend, abandoned houses were sold for 88p (1 euro). Although the houses had to be remodelled within three years from purchase, it was not a surprise that young couples were eager to buy them and repopulate the town. (Leadbeater, 2018). Other cities are taking similar action, for example, subsidising living for people to live there or offering land for almost nothing.
Tackling the transport issue, adding more services and paying people to live in rural areas could help with the current issue, however, this would still not be enough and in some cases, not sustainable. The main strategy should focus not on keeping young people in their native towns but trying to convince them to return and apply their knowledge to develop these communities, leading to social and economic growth.
I believe that this is a great opportunity for designers to take initiative on this matter since it is a trend which can be reversed through the design of different services and products. A design approach could enhance the rural pull factors and demonstrate that a higher standard of living can be achieved by living in small towns. So, how can we convince the young to come back? Thanks to the development in technology and communication, people can now work from their homes, and designers should take advantage of this. Modernization of these towns could lead to the creation of work hubs, social spaces, access to nature and green areas offering a higher quality of life than the one offered by urban areas. This contemporary look at rural areas could be a strong enough pull factor to reverse the trends and allow small towns to attract their young population back.
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