31 October 2013

Counter migration: from a big city to a little village

On my first night in Greece I was hosted by Stelios, who lives in Odigitria, a little village with 30 inhabitants.

Stelios's story is an interesting one: he was born and raised in Athens (population: 4 million people). After working for 3 different companies, 5 years ago he lost his job with Vodafone. He was 35 years old and he had a higher salary than the young people they were probably going to employ on his place (ethical company, isn't it?). Tired of the city life, which he never really appreciated, he decided to dramatically change his life and move back to the village from which his grandparents emigrated many years before. A little at a time he renovated his family's old house, which had been abandoned for 20 years, he got a dog and he started growing vegetables in the garden.

Then the economic crisis hit Greece, changing the life of many people. Now Stelios has a couple of temporary jobs, but he doesn't have a regular one. However, besides the current difficulties, Stelios would never move back to Athens: in Odigitria he found priceless things that he would never exchange with his past chaotic life: following the natural rhythm of the day, listening to the sound of the breeze that blows through the leaves, having an afternoon walk with his dog on the nearby hills right before sunset... He is not even "excluded" from the rest of the world, using Internet for communicating, reading news, hosting people with Couchsurfing and buying most of the things he needs.

Yes, he would like to have some money to travel as he used to do some years ago with his motorcycle. Yes, he wishes the government didn't put such high taxes on his old house. But, on the other hand, Stelios entirely owns his life and his time. How many people can say the same?

The story of Stelios is an interesting starting point to share some thoughts and open a discussion about city life vs rural life: everywhere in the world the migration pattern goes from villages to cities. People leave their native places to go to the cities to study or work. They end up never going back to their hometown, mainly because of opportunities: the city is a magnet which inevitably attracts the "metallic" materialistic part of us (basic needs like money and food, but also "luxuries"). Our dreaming part loses power, but never disappeares, because most city people still dream about exotic deserted beaches, mountain villages and huts, rural heavens, where they usually spend relaxing holidays. Yet, if rural or even "intermediate" areas could offer the same working and social opportunities of the cities, they would not hesitate to move there.

Now, the point is: 2013, Internet, e-commerce. Could it be an opportunity for a new and different development of rural areas? Little villages have been associated with poverty, agriculture, bad education, while cities have been praised for their industry, opportunites, education. Does this make sense in the Information Age? Can the mountain villages in the Alps and the fishing villages of Portugal pursue a new model of development?

Last but not least: the human factor. More people often equals more conformity and less self-discovery. Take Milan, London, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia. The cities are different, but people do the same things everywhere. It's unbelievable, if you think at it.
Take Pierre (South Dakota, USA), Cornuda (Veneto, Italy), Mala Subotica (Međimurje, Croatia), Odigitria (Central Macedonia, Greece). These places are unique. There lies the heart and the culture of a country.


  1. Ciao Stefano, salto la presenatzione perchè mi dicono che tu riconosci i tuo interlocutori da come scrivono.
    Mi sono impegnato per leggere le tue osservazioni su Stelios. Il mio inglese non è fluent ma posso solo migliorare.
    Nella vita bisogna dare la giusta importanza a tutte le cose.
    Spesso diamo troppa enfasi al denaro, mentre la cosa più importante della vita è la salute.
    Godersi ogni giorno il tramonto sicuramente aiuta a vivere sereni e non costa niente.
    Saprai che proprio in greco crisi vuol dire cambiamento e Stelios ha cambiato modo
    di vivere.
    Fortunato Stelios che aveva una alternativa con la casa dei nonni.
    Quante altre famiglie che vivono nei chilometri di palazzi che riempono le città
    avranno una alternativa simile ?

    Bou viaggio.

    1. Paolo Martignago, papà di Michele. Mi avevi riconosciuto?

    2. Direi di no :)
      Ad ogni modo: sì, in un certo senso Stelios è stato fortunato, perché le condizioni in cui ha fatto la scelta (non ha famiglia a carico, aveva pochi soldi risparmiati, una vecchia casa disponibile) sono rare.
      D'altra parte penso che un cambiamento, anche meno radicale del suo, sia spesso possibile, se si è disposti a sacrificare alcuni "comfort" veri o presunti.

      Da quando ho scritto questo articolo ho vissuto altre realtà e potrei integrare questo post con altri esempi/controesempi. Secondo me la distinzione campagna/città caratterizza una persona molto più di altre etichette (nazionalità/religione/...), ma ha infinite sfumature.

      Ad esempio per parlare di vita di campagna in Albania è faticoso conservare l'aspetto "bucolico", perché bisogna includere la mancanza di strade asfaltate, medici, medicinali, a volte di acquedotti e fognature decenti. In questo caso la città (ad esempio Tirana), per quanto brutta, può diventare anche sinonimo di salute...

  2. Interesting topic. I avoid to introduce myself as well.
    "2013, Internet, e-commerce. Could it be an opportunity for a new and different development of rural areas?"
    My answer is yes, but I'm probably too lazy at the moment to motivate it properly. Just a few things.

    - If you think about the villages in the Alps there are some differences between the Northern and the Southern part, and even between one region (e.g. Veneto) and another (Trentino). It's not just city vs village.

    - "Yet, if rural or even "intermediate" areas could offer the same working and social opportunities of the cities, they would not hesitate to move there." This is the whole point.
    To motivate my affermative answer I would say that Internet can be an enabling factor, but not necessarily the most important. Maybe.

    - ...

    1. La contrapposizione citta' / campagna 40 anni fa:



    2. - of course I simplified the topic: some cities might be enjoyable and some villages might be inhospitable. A subjective criteria to judge a place can be beauty: enabling factors could allow more people to live in the place they most like.

      - from personal experience, people who grow up in a city would rarely like to live in a village; people who grow up in a village would sometimes like to live in a city.

      - ...