France/Local development: these villages with a kick!

Published on 27/12/2021 | La rédaction


Far from the images of desertification, the diagonal of the void or impoverishment, villages are inventing new ways of local and sustainable development. Let's decipher the reasons for the success of these carriers of the future.

The Youth Ambition Groups? This Sarthe-based association offers young people from rural areas who have lost their place in society a general refresher course to (re)learn the basic rules of life in society (highway code, Internet use, etc.).The program offers young people in rural areas who have lost their place in society a general refresher course to (re)learn the basic rules of life in society (highway code, Internet use, etc.), followed by the discovery of fields that seem to be reserved for an elite (heritage, archaeology, theater, etc.). And it works: young people find confidence in themselves. Like Paul André, the young founder of the "Groupes Ambition Jeunesse", and far from the media hype, there are many local elected officials, associations, and ordinary inhabitants who invent, innovate, experiment, join forces, and work hard to maintain or even bring back life to their village... with success. All areas of local and sustainable development are concerned: agriculture and short circuits, economic development, maintenance of services or last shops, tourism, mobility, health, digital, environment, living environment, heritage, culture, solidarity, participative democracy, etc.

Capitalize on local characteristics

The ingredients for success are quite simple. In all cases, endogenous development is favoured, capitalising on local characteristics and strengths. This may be primarily a built, culinary or even intangible heritage, a unique history, a craft tradition, etc. One thinks of the Most Beautiful Villages of France, Small Cities of Character or Countries and Cities of Art and History, which are currently in vogue. Of course, they have made the most of a remarkable, even exceptional and abundant heritage, but they have also known how to make it bear fruit: the elected representatives have renovated remarkable buildings, owned by the municipalities; the inhabitants, often encouraged by judicious aid from their municipality or inter-municipality, have restored their homes and upgraded their facades. In Espelette in the Basque Country, no one would have bet on this pepper brought back from America by the conquistadors via Spain, and used until the 1960s to preserve the pork meat. And yet, after more than 30 years of struggle, the appellation of controlled origin was obtained in 2000: decoration of a first farm with chilli strings in 1967, birth of the Espelette chilli producers' union in 1978, failure of a first AOC application... The rest is history: more than 160 Espelette chilli pepper farms, a picture-postcard village that provides a livelihood for many craftsmen and shopkeepers, and a tannery employing around a hundred people. At another end of France, Malicorne-sur-Sarthe has not disavowed its earthenware tradition and two companies continue to perpetuate it, mastering, for example, the difficult art of openwork. Not to mention a recent Modern Earthenware Museum, the hosting of creative artists in residence, the mediation of the Chemins en couleur association, which allows visitors to see the artists exhibited in the museum.In addition, there is a recent Modern Earthenware Museum, the hosting of creative artists in residence, the mediation of the Chemins en couleur association, which shows artists exhibiting in the houses, and the steps taken by the municipality to obtain the Ville et métiers d'art label.

Individuals or exceptional groups

Another key to success, often cumulative with the first, is the individuality or the group. Sometimes, as the village is obliged to do, the craftsman of success has disappeared behind "his" work. Almost nobody knows Jean-Louis Guilhaumon today, but many music lovers appreciate Jazz in Marciac, the summer jazz festival that now attracts 250,000 people a year to this small village of 1,224 inhabitants in the Gers. It all started with this modest French teacher with a passion for jazz, who was asked by the mayor of the time in 1978 to boost culture... Régis Marcon, who is still at the head of his Auberge des Cimes, is probably best known for his three Michelin stars since 1995. He is at the origin of a gastronomic saga around his own family and well beyond, in the village of Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid, between Velay and Vivarais. Judge for yourself! Saint-Bonnet now has seven restaurants, four hotels and thirty-five commercial, craft or service activities... for 263 inhabitants, not counting hotel nights. A success between excellence and green lung.

Elsewhere, it is the collective that imposes itself from the outset. Les Survoltés d'Aubais? This is the story of a 1,500 square metre photovoltaic power station, supported by a hard core and 274 financiers, who "rather than working against", decided to "work for".decided to "work for", with perseverance and for six years in this village of 2,762 inhabitants in the Gard, despite the lack of enthusiasm of the town hall. Another example of collective success is the restoration of the castle of Gratot in the Manche department. It was the farmer who became the owner of a ruined castle who had the intelligence to mobilize volunteers, who have not stopped renovating, maintaining... and animating the castle since the end of the 1960s: a human adventure... and territorial, since it attracts many visitors in this rural sector of the South Channel.

Their message: reinvest in rural areas

Another key to success is innovation, of course. This is not, by any means, the prerogative of the metropolises. Look, for example, at the blossoming of connected lockers, these connected vending machines for fresh and local products. Well-positioned in the countryside, on the side of a busy road or in a town with no grocery store, they provide a service to the inhabitants of villages with no shops, while offering quality products and ensuring a better margin for farmers, even if this generally only constitutes a small part of their turnover. Sometimes the municipality even invests and rents a module to several producers, thus avoiding a multiplication of racks in the landscape. Rural innovation is also currently particularly targeted at mobility, with solidarity carpooling (Atchoum, Entraide et déplacement en Seine-et-Marne), work carpooling (Klaxit, Karos...), organised and secure local hitchhiking (Rezo Pouce...)... and even the return of the train carried by private individuals - who would have thought it?- through the Railcoop cooperative.

Obviously, all these successes are not achieved without perseverance. Because rural areas lack resources, they often involve volunteers, or even only volunteers. It must be admitted that they are sometimes fragile: when their linchpin(s) leave the premises, the work sometimes collapses. But in a society often sick of overconsumption or individualism, these successes have something exhilarating, inviting us to be more actors than consumers. Incidentally, they consolidate or even attract new populations: there is even talk of an urban exodus, which could well be confirmed with this health crisis, and which is not only the result of a city that can push back, but also of dynamic countryside. What is the message of all these project leaders to the State? Reinvest in rural areas, bring back public services, accelerate the digital coverage of the country, there is no useful savings... so at the risk that the Yellow Vests come back on our roundabouts, it is possible. These are the issues for this election campaign, ladies and gentlemen candidates.

Frédéric Ville, journalist specializing in rurality and regional planning, author of These villages that have pep! Volume I - Economy and services, 292 p. Volume II - Environment and living environment, 196 p. Volume III - Living well together, 256 p. Salientes Editions, August 2021.


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