Conclusions and a Roadmap to Future Research
Our modern space-economy is showing clear signs of far-reaching transformations, where the balance between urban and rural areas is at stake, both demographically and functionally. This study has addressed in particular the functioning of towns in modern rural areas.
It can be concluded that, today as well, small and medium-sized towns still have a central function in the regional economy. Nevertheless, the importance of towns is different for different actors and in different countries. To households they are particularly important for shopping, and to a lesser extent for working. The towns are most important to households with a low income, and to those that have lived in the local area for a long time. In this respect, it can be concluded that investments in facilities in towns are likely to reach the households who need such investments most. To firms, towns are indispensable as suppliers of labour, in particular for agricultural firms as an input market and for service-related firms as a sales market. Furthermore, national differences are apparent. In countries like the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal, the central function of towns for hinterland actors is somewhat less strong compared with England and France.
When thinking about future research, in particular the importance of economic diversity in rural areas and the optimal openness of firms to the wider economy is considered important. Other subjects are the dependency of rural areas on the public sector, as well as town-hinterland interactions in new Member States.