One thing about population in Romania that we can all agree on is that it is in free fall. A recent article has revealed to me that, supposedly, the number of Romanians moving out of the city and into the country side is greater than the number of Romanians moving into the city.
Today the clock springs forward one hour, but if you live in the country-side, you don’t need to worry about it, supposedly because that’s where “forever” was born (in Romanian: “vecinicia s-o nascut la sat”).
Over 100000 Romanians move yearly to the country, 20-30% more than those moving from the countryside to the city. In the last decade it’s over 1 million vs 800000 according to their calculations using INS (national stats institute) data.
This new flux does not do so entirely out of economic reasons – many are looking for calm and quiet, some being pensioners, others retaking their family homes, and others are part of some kind of “suburban revival”. It’s interesting that although a large number of people live in suburbia, in Romania it’s not called as such, which explains perhaps my (and others’) confusion.
I presume people fleeing city traffic jams for the suburbs might be insulted to learn they are suburbanites (if they know what that means). After all, they moved there to improve their lifestyle and give their kids a better life. But has this happened?
Suburbia, where the suburbs met Utopia
(Where the suburbs met Utopia)
Lost in the high street, where the dogs run
Roaming suburban boys
Mother's got a hairdo to be done
She says they're too old for toys
Stood by the bus stop with a felt pen
In this suburban hell
And in the distance a police car
To break the suburban spell
Let's take a ride, and run with the dogs tonight
You can't hide, run with the dogs tonight
If this (urban –> rural migration) were true, it’s alarming. Urban agglomerations, especially rather small ones (on a world scale) such as a Bucharest are far more efficient in resource use and reuse than low density areas. Additionally, agriculture and especially subsistence agriculture are perennial low income / money losing / life wasting propositions and developmental breaks, requiring subsidies and money-losing investments in infrastructure that can never be recovered fully.
If we look at population change 2005-2009 within the European context (nrs-pop), we see that quite a few areas in Romania were more or less stable (especially when compared with most Slavic countries, West of Spain, Eastern Germany and Anatolia), with Bucharest and Timisoara growing rapidly, and 5-6 poorer counties losing population. A 2001-2005 map shows Bucharest the winner again, with some Bucovina and Moldovan oddities (espon-pdf).
A very detailed European map was posted by Berliner Morgenpost for 2001-2011 (bm-eurkarte). We can see in this map that while all the city cores have been experiencing slight population annual decreases (Bucharest: –0.3%, Iasi: –0.1%, Constanta: –1%, Brasov: –1.2%, Sibiu: –0.6%), their suburbs have been exploding. For Bucharest, Corbeanca +10%, Chiajna +8.7%, Domnesti 4.1%, Bragadiru +9.8%, Pantelimon +6.6%.
Fargus O’Sullivan makes sense of it all (citylab-eu):
Look at the Eastern section of the map and you’ll see that many cities, including Prague, Bucharest, and the Polish cities of Poznań and Wrocław, are ringed with a deep red circle that shows a particularly high rise in average annual population of 2 percent or more. As this paper from Krakow’s Jagiellonian University’s Institute of Geography notes, Eastern cities began to spread out in the new millennium because it was their first chance to do so in decades.
During the Communist era, a lack of private construction companies and capital put a damper on the building of single-family homes, a restriction that continued to have effects in the early years of capitalism thanks to rapidly shrinking economies and a resulting lack of cash across the region. As the economic shock gradually subsided and more capital flooded into these regions, the beginning of this century saw many cities loosening their belts and spreading out.
The fact that Romanians in Romania don’t call this suburbanization phenomenon by its proper name suggests that they are not aware and do not understand how this affects their society. For a simple, clear explanation we do not need to look further than wef-megacities:
The UN says that urbanization has helped millions escape poverty through increased productivity, employment opportunities, improved quality of life and large-scale investment in infrastructure.
But the report highlights that urban planning is “central to achieving a sustainable urban environment”, and that the current system for doing this is “outdated” – often excluding women and neighbourhood support from the planning process.
Apparently trivial issues can have significant impacts. At first sight, for example, an issue like higher commuting times might not seem like the most pressing problem, but it’s included in the UN report because it can threaten an urban area’s professional efficiency, as well as increasing its carbon footprint.
And this (commuting) is really the biggest visible issue in Bucharest at least, and foremost on people’s minds. Bucharest is 5th in the world in terms of traffic jams, behind cities with a population ranging from 10 to 50 million, with no hope in sight. Most Romanians (save the coolest few) are so blinded by waiting in traffic that they prefer to move out of the cities rather than getting a bicycle (see the traffic category). It is also interesting that Toronto has an average commuting time longer than Bucharest, but that’s probably because the suburbanization process is “mature” here, and there are far more people living farther than the downtown core where they work. Whereas Torontonians spend their commute time moving, those in Bucharest spend their time behind the wheel, idling sickly.
It’s very expensive to live downtown in Toronto especially in this real estate boom yet taxes are somehow lower. In urban Romania, the average income is 1350 RON with 1150 RON expenses, vs “countryside” (which may or may not include suburbia) with 870 RON income and 750 RON expenses. Romanian suburbanization occurred in 2007-2016 over a net loss (mostly to external migration) of 1.3 million (out of an initial 21.1 million), with the cities losing over 1 million people and the countryside the rest.
It is difficult to determine whether it’s ignorance or pandering to their readers that drives Andreea Neferu to call suburbanization “re-ruralization” in her article. To recognize and address the coming problems, Romanian journalists, statisticians and sociologists should start call suburbanization what it is, and counting big city suburbs for what they are, rather than “villages” (in Romanian, “sate” & “comune”).
Suburban (or “countryside”) infrastructure is poorly developed. While Romanians complain about roads and lack thereof, I’m quite sure that the water suburbanites are drinking is far worse than what urbanites get, coming from sources polluted with agricultural runoff and decades of pesticide use. My advice to anyone living in such a situation is to install and properly maintain a reverse osmosis with (at least) double carbon filtration system for their drinking and cooking water, especially if they have kids.
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