Maapiirkondade elavdamine: ehituspärand ja turundustegevus Lõuna-Eesti näitel / Revitalising rural areas: built heritage and promotion activities in South Estonian municipalities
The focus of this study is on marketing strategies used for promoting five different rural municipalities. It is the first study of its kind to describe the results and success of the process of revitalising rural areas over the past twenty years.Given the scope of the subject and the range of different approaches and strategies, the study does not aspire to present the final truth; it should, however, provide a basis for further discussions and, hopefully, opportunities for both the communities and local governments to plan relevant activities better and to evaluate the success of past attempts.
The attraction held by rural areas has often been described as the ’rural idyll’, and is expressed in three components: landscapes, buildings, and communities / networks. Communal processes are characterised by long histories which render current impact obscure. The authors of this article found that evaluating them really requires a greater temporal distance and an approach with a tighter regional focus. So, our study can only lay the foundations by establishing the regional characteristics in a few cases of new rural settlement in South Estonia.
The marketing elements employed in different regions tend to overlap to an extent, but it is also possible to identify variations in regional marketing. In general, it can be said that Halliste has been characterised by the simple sale of buildings relying on an existing network, while local culture dominates as the foundation for regional amenities in Värska and Peipsiääre communes, an employment-based strategy is used in Misso, and Antsla stands out as an unexplored region with a large potential.
The marketing of rural areas can create a positive image for the municipality in question, provided that the activities are well-planned and skilfully executed. While population growth tends to be sporadic, it is important to note that in all the municipalities studied here, population decrease has virtually ceased in recent years. The general appearance of the landscape has also been improved, buildings as well as the village streets and general public space are now in better order. The community is strengthened as a result of this process.
The success of subsequent activities should be supported, in the view of their proponents, by the fact that there have been no significant setbacks in at least four of the studied communities. The process could, however, be limited in future by the lack of suitable free buildings or by a steep rise in real estate prices.
Interview questions were prepared with the aim of covering different areas and social groups. Given that the study was qualitative in nature, differences between the municipalities can be identified in general terms. Thus, the new inhabitants of Misso municipality tend to be blue collar workers, mostly working locally, thus alleviating the local labour shortage. In other four municipalities, the cultural and educational background of the newcomers tends to be somewhat different: these places mostly attract better-educated and better-off settlers. Most of them seem to be people seeking a summer home.
Based on the analysis of the accumulated data, the authors of this study find that the marketing of rural areas should continue to rely on active local volunteers with an interest in the issue who are provided both financial aid and specialist expertise by local municipalities. Regional agendas should also be more clearly articulated and prepared in cooperation between all stakeholders. This would enable avoiding potential conflicts, and help achieve the best results, while toning down unrealistic expectations.
We are aware that this is the first study seeking to evaluate rural marketing activities and strategies in Estonia. As a result, a number of sub-themes remain largely not discussed here, such as conflicts and the forces driving them. It is also necessary to examine and evaluate the involvement of old and new real-estate holders in the activities of the local community, decision-making processes, and public participation. We also need to develop a more accurate tool to help local governments with the marketing of their area and kick-starting destination-marketing by enabling them to measure the number of new arrivals, occupied real estate and, in the longer run, the effect on local economy.
Keywords: rural amenities, architecture, landscapes, cultural values, communities, municipalities