| October 2021, Por Rafael Bastante

Where time stands still

The following is a photographic essay on the depopulation, senectitude and inertia floating in the Spanish town of Arenillas de Riopisuegra.

Waking up solely to exist. That’s not minor

This is a place just like many others, lost amid barely trodden paths, we swiftly pass by

A place we glance over while fleeting thoughts of the future cross our minds

A place just like many others I ended up in.

Here the future is late; it hurries not.

It fades away as it glides down the endless winding roads

Whistling to the tune of the wind which shapes one’s character

A wind which gives what it has, as honest, and harsh and noble as its people

A place just like many others, where time stands still

We know and enjoy the goodness of rural life. The hectic pace of urban centers experiences a balance when in small towns. However, reality in Spain is far from offering a sustainable and comfortable life outside cities. For decades, rural environments have been faced with their doom: continuous rural exodus and population aging.

The lack of basic utility services and of economic development are two of the factors that are responsible for this ‘rural flight’ phenomenon which forces people —in particular, the youth— to emigrate to cities in search of a job that allows them to meet their needs. 

The law on sustainable rural development has long indicated the necessary tools to prevent depopulation. Nonetheless, there are several cases in which these measures have never been implemented as yet.

At present, nearly 50 per cent of the population of Spain lives in urban centers, which represents a mere 5 per cent of the whole territory of the country.

This town —located in the region of Odra-Pisuerga, within the province of Burgos — is just a single example of the almost 2,500 municipalities in Spain (30 per cent of the total number of municipalities of the country) with less than 200 inhabitants,

For years now, the migratory movement from towns to big urban centers has caused large areas of Spain to become deserted. The Spanish population density is below the European average, which is estimated to be 180 people per square kilometer.

Odra-Pisuerga is a mainly cereal-producing region and it is also somewhat engaged in wool farming as well. In spite of its importance, agriculture is a sector that has been profoundly affected by rural depopulation and the resulting abandonment of the fields 

In Spain agriculture —and the associated agro-industry— creates about 2 million jobs. Apart from the tourist industry and the employment it generates, this sector is the following most important one for rural Spain.

Castilla y León is one of the autonomous communities having the lowest level of population density: 26 people per square kilometer. Other regions share similar indexes with the lowest one in Europe: that of Lapland, Norway

This Iberian country has the highest life expectancy rates in the European Union: one in five Spaniards is over 65 years old. This aging phenomenon is concentrated in rural towns, particularly in those having less than a thousand inhabitants, where three out of ten people belong to that age-group. The smaller the municipality, the larger the proportion of elderly population.

Nonetheless, Coronavirus has forced people to try out new working mechanisms that have opened up the possibility of returning to rural environments. This chance has arrived as a relief for sectors of the urban population that were affected by the impact of the sanitary crisis. Teleworking has revealed a path that could potentially lead to restoring a new balance between rural and urban life, which would ultimately result in the possibility of enjoying a better quality of life. In turn, the environment would benefit from less commuting and energy expenditure if companies and the productive sector in general were to continue being relocated, away from city centers. Only time will tell if this path that has been opened will last after the pandemic is over.


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