From online education to smartworking, many have taken the opportunity during the COVID-19 emergency to study and work in a way that could prove invaluable for the future of the land and people of the mountains. It is in fact essential to develop and exploit the digital infrastructures to continue to live at high altitude, combining the quality of life that the mountains can offer with the possibility of continuing to do business.
For mountains both inhabited and connected
One of the words most frequently used in the Overall Management Strategy of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation is “connection”. Ecological-functional connections between territories, in particular, but also administrative, political, economic, social and cultural connections are among the objectives of the Foundation’s daily networking activity. “Being connected” is essential not least to turn the fragility of a fragmented territory into a strength, and therefore turn something that separates into one that unites. It can be enough to simply change one’s perspective: the mountains can separate or bring valleys together, depending on how you cross them. The mountain territory is essentially a model of a network in itself, and mountain people have always spontaneously adopted “smart” approaches: for example, they have known how to plan and monitor, in a practical manner, measures for the protection and collective management of environmental assets. Now, however, the creation of “smart villages” that can offer essential services to keep the mountains inhabited would appear to be indispensable and could qualify for support from the EU as part of the “EU’s smart villages action plan”, and the Strategy for internal areas follows along these same lines.
EUSALP launches the challenge
EUSALP is the EU Strategy for the Alpine Region, which involves 7 countries, 48 regions and autonomous provinces and 80 million people. Created in response to the major challenges of the Alpine Region, EUSALP constitutes a strategic agenda to improve cooperation in the Alpine States and stimulate a model of innovative and sustainable development of the Alpine Region. One of the many goals is to also increase connectivity and access to services of general interest in mountain areas. “It is clear to everyone how much the use of digital technologies has increased in this period of crisis,” is stated on EUSALP’s site. “However, the structural support of a common policy for technological development in the Alps, coordinated on a European level, is required. Digitalisation concerns not only the infrastructures, but also the use of these technologies and digital skills.” During this period, many have worked and continued their education from home, and public authorities have had to communicate with citizens almost entirely by digital means. This cultural change will have a long-term impact: “While we will make every effort to return to normal as soon as possible, we think some of these new developments will be here to stay.” The appeal to the authorities has echoed throughout the Dolomites and other areas of the Alps in a bid to limit depopulation: the creation of digital infrastructures even in the more isolated corners of the Alps must be a priority. EUSALP’s Action Group 5 has developed common strategies and promoted some exemplary cases of smart villages that could help all other Alpine areas attain the goal of full connectivity and acquire the skills required to make this approach effective against depopulation.