How are urban and rural areas similar?

Participation Atlas Germany - Inequitable living conditions and how people perceive them

How well people in Germany can participate in social life depends to a large extent on where they live. "The chances are particularly good in Baden-Württemberg, in parts of Bavaria and in southern Hesse," says Reiner Klingholz, Director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. "To the north, only a few regions offer their residents comparable opportunities for participation, in the east only the district of Dahme-Spreewald, close to Berlin."

Three decades after reunification, most of the East German regions are still lagging behind in many areas. In almost all rural districts, but also in most eastern German cities, people have to live with fewer opportunities to participate. But they share this fate with the residents of some West German cities, especially in the Ruhr area, but also in the southwest of Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein.
This is the result of a new study by the Berlin Institute and the Wüstenrot Foundation. The study examines which social participation opportunities the 401 German districts and urban districts offer their residents. Participation was measured using a number of indicators such as the rate of social benefit recipients, the level of income, the availability of fast Internet access or the accessibility of doctors, supermarkets and other everyday services.

As a result, the republic is divided into six areas, which are similar in their framework conditions: three urban and three rural “clusters”, each with good, moderate and poor opportunities for participation. The map created from this, a kind of “participation atlas”, shows “where the well-supplied and, in extreme cases, the 'detached' regions of Germany are,” says Stefan Krämer, Deputy Managing Director of the Wüstenrot Foundation. "It becomes clear how important a differentiated strategy of action that takes up these differences is, especially in politics."

Subjective perception of objective conditions
But how do people perceive these actual living conditions - the same, better or worse than the objective figures suggest? In order to compare the perceived opportunities for participation with the data collected, we traveled to 15 regions from all six clusters and held a total of almost 300 individual interviews and group discussions: with citizens and politicians, with administrative employees, business and media representatives and with people who are volunteers or full-time work in the social field. The result is not representative, but gives a good insight into the local lifestyle.
"The discussions showed that people were largely realistic about their living conditions," summarizes Manuel Slupina, co-author of the study: "They dealt with the differences in opportunities for participation quite soberly and pragmatically." Depending on where they live, they also have different expectations to their environment. The rural dwellers surveyed are mostly aware of the disadvantage that they have to commute to work and that they have to go to the nearest major city for some errands. Even so, they said they liked living there.

What influences perception
If residents have the feeling that their region is developing positively, they are more optimistic about their personal situation. "Especially where people feel an upward trend after a long dry spell, the respondents usually have a positive outlook on the future," says Slupina. Conversely, respondents expressed the feeling of being left behind, where they experience the decline as chronic and see little prospect. It is often changes in the immediate environment that shape the assessment: when the village shop closes or the hospital is on the brink, many perceive this as problematic - even if the region as a whole develops positively.
Whether in the country or in the city, in a booming or shrinking region, interviewees everywhere report a special bond with their (adopted) homeland. Those who feel connected to a place are more willing to get involved and contribute to improving living conditions. Numerous associations, citizens' buses and village shops are evidence of this. In the rural regions visited in eastern Germany, however, many respondents are skeptical of the idea of ​​taking the initiative themselves and do not believe that they will be able to make a difference with their efforts. Fixing grievances is the task of politics.

The role of politics
The declared aim of the federal government is to ensure “equal living conditions” in all parts of the country. “To this day, however, it has not defined what equivalence should look like,” complains Klingholz. That makes it almost impossible to name unequal living conditions, let alone to establish equivalence.
In any case, the regions develop very differently economically and demographically and often have fundamentally different requirements. "With the promise of equality, politics arouses expectations that it cannot meet," says Klingholz: "This inevitably leads to disappointments and further frustrations." Instead, they should acknowledge reality and soberly assess their own possibilities. Due to the diversity of living conditions, it has to look for solutions that are based on the respective regional possibilities and needs in order to enable people everywhere in the country to participate in society.

We visited the following regions:
Gütersloh, Heilbronn, Ludwigslust-Parchim, Mansfeld-Südharz, Ostalbkreis, Rotenburg (Wümme), Schleswig-Flensburg, Tirschenreuth

One district cities:
Braunschweig, Cottbus, Dresden, Gelsenkirchen, Hamburg, Heilbronn, Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Stuttgart


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