Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Commercial concentration and rural depopulation are among the most corrosive change patterns in Germany, slowly causing tens of thousands of local communities to be deserted by cultural institutions, financial, medical and social services, food and other stores, with “the bakery leaving last,” as Heinz Frey has observed in his own village.
The distribution of food stores illustrates commercial concentration very clearly: while in 2000 there still were about 45.000 stores sized 400 square meters or less, in 2008 this number was nearly cut by half because for large retailers, small sized stores are not economically productive enough. With this development not only do the distances to the next store grow, but also many small stores in villages are left empty, changing the character of many small communities. Small stores and corner shops today have a market share of less than 10 percent. With the rising necessity of mobility in order to access products and services, especially elderly become highly dependent on support. If they do not have it, they are forced to move to where the supply is located. Additionally, communities hit by this development become much less attractive to younger groups and families who then tend to move away as well – leaving what is called “sleeping villages.”
Commercial concentration and rural depopulation interact closely. Statistics show that rural areas are hit by both phenomena far above average. This is because on the one hand population in general is on the decline, leaving mostly elderly people in rural areas, and on the other hand young people and families strive to live in the cities or metropolitan areas due to job opportunities and the outlook of modern urban life. Rural communities in Germany shrunk by two percent in west Germany and seven percent in east Germany between 2003 and 2008. Depopulation rates are higher when there are fewer local supply structures intact. Some areas in Germany even observe declines of up to one third of the population.
This interaction is a vicious cycle of a reduction in people, local economies, and attractive job opportunities – leading to negative effects for the local populations and the rural sustainability as a whole. These negative effects include a rise in negative outlooks on the future, loneliness and as a consequence, rising political protectionism in some cases. Statistics vary widely depending on which definitions are used. According to the OECD, 12 percent of Germany’s population lives in rural areas, while Germany itself uses a smaller unit of definition leading to a total of 27 percent of Germany’s population living in rural areas. On average, 25 percent of this population lacks a comprehensive supply structure within less than a 30 minute drive from their homes. At least 31 percent of villages in rural areas struggle with being able to provide supply and services to their communities – or will be in this situation in the near future.
Studies indicate that in communities with up to 5,000 citizens, more than 60 percent seek out a better supply through small retailers. The timing is most opportune for rural areas and villages to innovate and create a new kind of growth for society before the situation deteriorates more for rural areas and populations.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
DORV (short for “service and local provisioning”) was launched in 2001 in a village of 1,400 when due to commercial concentration and rural depopulation the last bank closed and the village was faced with an irreversible decline. Heinz Frey realized that the reinvigoration of small villages would only work if community members worked together, took ownership and found an innovative way to create a holistic local supply situation that meets their local needs and allows them to stay in their local environments.
Within three years, Heinz Frey has brought together the financial and engagement resources as well as the best practices from many other places to create the first DORV center. It is the first applied concept that combines what has so far not interacted: essential food and fresh produce (sourced from the closest still existing independent baker, butcher and local farmer) with services such as communication, postal and car registration services as well as medical and social services through scheduled consultation hours. This way, a DORV center becomes a community owned and organized hub for village life and supply, also serving as meeting point and facility for cultural events.