On 23 May, 2007, the world was privileged to celebrate the ‘Urban Millennium’ . On this date, for the first time in history worldwide there were more people living in cities than in the countryside: 3.3 billion people, on 3% of the earth's surface. For the coming two years Noorderlicht will be turning its attention to this phenomenon, beginning with the changing rural areas of the world.
We would like to think of rural areas as idyllic: self-sufficient communities in which an individual can live peacefully, places where people are not carried along by the roller coaster of urban life and the madhouse of the modern economy. Alas, the reality is much less romantic.
UN reports sketch a sombre picture of rural life, especially in the non-Western world. The prospects for its inhabitants are even worse than those of the slum-dwellers in the cities. Poverty is rampant and there is a lack of schooling. Social mobility is limited to an exodus of the young to the city, so that the countryside is ageing. In the West things appear less dramatic in terms of the standard of living, but what would it look like here without agricultural subsidies?
The economic appeal of the city is nothing new – as early as 1910 the United States were already primarily urban – but what is new is the high tempo at which the cities – particularly in the non-Western world – are growing. It is expected that by 2030 only 40% of the world's population will be living in rural areas. In that year 80% of the urban population will be outside of the West, which means that particularly what are now smaller cities in Asia and Africa can expect rapid expansion by natural growth.
The city is the focus of all economic and social development. The countryside – although they exist in symbiosis – is at the service of the city.
Agriculture is oriented toward large-scale production at low prices, with all the consequences which follow from that. For instance, with the rising demand for agricultural products the destruction of the tropical rainforests will speed up, whole regions may take on an entirely different use because of the growing demand for water, and production with modern bio- technologies will be intensified. Through the exploitation of natural resources the world's supplies of them will be exhausted. The migration towards cities has large consequences for the economy, the demographics and the level of resources in rural areas.
Noorderlicht takes in 2010 the contemporary countryside as its theme. How is rural life changing in the current urbanised and global economy? Is it possible, against all economic logic, to find new values for rural life?
Noorderlicht calls on photographers and institutions to submit proposals for the exhibition. The deadline for submissions this year is Sunday 11 April. Submissions are possible by e-mail, post or ftp. Click here to read the conditions.In the following year, 2011, Noorderlicht is taking the city as the subject of the Photofestival in Groningen. Submissions for this are also welcome.
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