Following my visit to Alytus County, Lithuania in October, I travelled to Leipzig, Germany to visit our DERREG project partners Michael Kriszan, Robert Nadler and Joachim Burdack (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography) in their case study area ’Upper Lusatia’. In this blog, Michael, Robert, Joachim and I would like to share some of our experiences.
We first discovered that the case study regions Westerkwartier and Upper Lusatia are very different in their geographical and demographical characteristics. The LEADER region Westerkwartier in Groningen province comprises four municipalities on an area of 374km² and has a population density of 173.4 inhabitants/km² (as of 2007). In 2006, its GDP per capita was estimated at 55,400 Euro and the area has recently witnessed a population increase due to its popularity amongst young families who work in the city of Groningen and value the countryside as their residential area. The Southern part of the Westerkwartier is thus characterized by a high population density and a number of conflicting interests regarding the use of the countryside while the North of the Westerkwartier is primarily used for agriculture.
Upper Lusatia consists of the two Saxon districts Landkreis Görlitz and Landkreis Bautzen that have only been established in 2008 in the process of a reform of the administration units in Saxony. The case study region has an area of about 4,500 km² and has a population density of 135 inhabitants/km². It comprises 122 municipalities- of which 30 are urban centers- and had a GDP per capita of 18,329 Euro (district Görlitz) respectively 19,396 (district Bautzen) in the year 2007 . The region is divided into ten rural development areas, six ILE regions and four LEADER regions. In contrast to the Westerkwartier, the population of Upper Lusatia is shrinking rapidly. Young inhabitants are leaving the area due to a lack of employment opportunities, leaving the elder people behind. Rural development in this region is therefore not only affected by an aging population but also by a shrinking human capital available for development purposes. Through the reform of administrative units altogether four previously distinct districts (Landkreise) and two cities (kreisfreie Städte) have been incorporated into the two “new” districts of Görlitz and Bautzen. The previous Landkreise, however, are very distinct in their physical appearance. The former district Niederschlesien-Oberlausitz for example is characterized by a low population density and shaped through past and present coal mining activities while the hilly district Löbau-Zittau is recognized as a touristic area and winter sport resort. Due to the lack of a common history and the physical distinctiveness, there is no regional identity of the population within both districts.
To evaluate the support and facilitation available for learning and innovation within local grassroots development initiatives in Upper Lusatia, Robert, Michael and Joachim organized a workshop for regional stakeholders.
Workshop in Upper Lusatia, Germany