THE NETWORK OF SETTLEMENTS AS FOUNDATION OF THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS
The territorial system of Banat needs to be looked at from a double perspective: of the natural macrosystem and of the socio-economic one. Banat’s natural “amphitheatre” includes, in the eastern and southern parts, a mountainous area that contains natural resources, as well as species of plants and animals protected by national legislation, while the central and western parts are occupied by hills and plains. This setting has determined, in time, the structure of the socio-economic macrosystem.
The centre of the plain area is occupied by Timișoara-Arad, Banat’s two-poles economic and demographic centre. For a long time the two had comparable economic and demographic dimensions, with Timișoara consolidating its position as a regional centre only in the last half of the century, as a result of the administrative reorganization after the Second World War.
Around Timișoara and Arad gravitate, at relatively equal distances, small towns which have in the past stood out as rural poles, as centres of craftsmanship and exchanges: Jimbolia, Sânnicolau Mare, Gătaia, Deta, Ciacova, Recaș, Lipova. The proximity to Timișoara and Arad, the possibility of commuting and the territory’s infrastructure offer these towns a privileged position at a regional level.
In the southern part, hierarchically inferior to Timișoara and Arad, we find the municipalities of Lugoj and Caransebeș, positioned on an important axis and situated far enough from Timișoara to create their own areas of influence. The towns in this part of the region have benefited from a planned development in close connection with the extraction industry (Anina, Moldova Nouă, Bocșa, Oravița), the development of tourism (Băile Herculane) or transport (Orșova).
In terms of settlement types, in the south and east of Banat we find dispersed villages in the mountain area, scattered villages in hilly regions and compact, concentrated villages in low altitude areas, at the bottom of hills or along valleys and rivers. The centre and west are occupied by numerous villages created during the colonisation period of the 18th century, which offer a vanguardist example of urban planification. The villages have preset plans, linear streets, are well populated and evenly distributed in the territory for reasons of economic efficiency.
In the context of Timișoara – European Capital of Culture 2021, one of the the project’s challenges is to consider Banat as a unit, with its centre and its periphery, its developing cities and towns, but also with its many declining towns and remote, isolated areas.
The way towards a functional region (in which settlements form a hierarchical system and the interaction between them is based on polarisation of various ranks, starting with the relations of proximity) must be based on the structuring of an economic space. The relations between producers, workforce, consumption and raw matter can be maximized through investments into infrastructure, especially in isolated areas. Otherwise the contrast between Timișoara’s 21st century ambitions and the dirt roads in villages risks upsetting the region’s functional and demographic balance.
THE STRUCTURE OF BANAT’S POPULATION
The structure and evolution of a region mirrors its economic and functional situation: a space that offers a wide variety of services favorable to living (from clean air, to economic, educational, cultural functions) will be obviously more attractive for people.
In 2017, 1.347.836 people had their residence in Banat, 62.5% of which were living in urban areas. This places Banat between Romania (with a 54,7% urbanisation rate) and Central Europe (over 70% urbanisation rate in Hungary and Czech Republic).
The density of population is Banat is of 65.7 inhabitants/km2, 20 units below the national average. This reveals Banat as a space structured around a bipolar centre Timișoara-Arad and an extended periphery, with shrinking post-industrial towns, where communication axes no longer have a determined role.
Analysing the percentage of young people (under 14 years old) in the population, we discover that the highest number of young people is not correlated with urbanisation or any other indicators of wealth and development, but with the ethnicity or confession of local inhabitants, or the recent phenomenon of rurbanisation.
On the other hand, the percentage of people over 65 reveals the existence of three areas: an effervescent Banat around Timișoara and Arad, with under 15% elderly people, benefiting from an influx of young people from other less developed areas; an intermediary Banat along major axes and main communication routes, such as E70, A1, E673; and an aged Banat, mostly in the remote, mountainous, rural areas where there are three to five times more old people than around Timișoara. However, these last areas are the ones with the highest touristic and ecological potential, being the main “refuge spots” for big city dwellers. One solution could be the organisation of events tailored to specific places, in order to valorise them.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE NUMBER OF INHABITANTS
Comparing the numbers from 2011 and 2017, we notice that the population has been relatively stable, reducing with 0.05 per year. However, out of the 202 territorial administrative units studied, 129 show a decrease in population. Basically, apart from the suburban rings around Timișoara, all the other settlements are losing inhabitants. And if in the west and centre of Banat the decrease is gradual from the centre to the periphery, in the south and east, the decrease is uniform and significant, of over 7%. The absence of competitive poles in this area and the rough terrain cause the villages and towns to be little resilient. Isolated and poorly equipped, these places have very little chances of attracting investors. When dealing with reduction of population of such an extent, rehabilitation through culture is probably insufficient and public investment is urgently needed.
At the same time, the rapid increase of population in the communes around Timișoara will put a strain on their infrastructure and, paired with the lack of public policy and lack of public action, may lead to chaotic, difficult to manage settlements, and a decrease in life quality.
THE MOVEMENTS OF POPULATION IN BANAT
The numbers show that all of Banat’s towns and cities are losing population, with the situation deteriorating as we move towards the periphery, to remote communes.
In the case of small towns, the lack of opportunities seems to be the main cause of migration, sometimes to Timișoara or other regional metropoles, other times abroad. In the case of Timișoara and Arad, the loss of population is related to the quality of life and the search for better life standards: more space, fresher air, less noise etc. We are dealing, thus, with cities overflowing into their peripheries.
In this context, the most prolific territorial administrative units have been the suburban communes of Dumbrăvița and Giroc, which in 2016 have seen over 100 newcomers for every 1.000 inhabitants, which means over 1.000 newcomers per commune. Together with Timișoara, these communes should benefit from an integrated approach and the whole area treated as one living space.
WORKFORCE DYNAMIC, POPULATION OCCUPATIONS AND ENTREPRENEURIAL DENSITY
A territory of migrations by excellence, Banat has benefited for centuries from an infusion of workforce from other regions. Most times, the new population is of a young age, as the main types of migration are for studies and economic reasons. This means that Banat has a high percentage of active population, mostly around big urban centres, where the percentage is over 70%.
However, the areas that are in decline in the south of Banat (Reșița-Anina-Oravița, the Danube valley, Bistra valley) also have a high percentage of active population. At the same time, these are areas with high unemployment rates, due to lack of investments and the absence of workplaces.
Banat has an overall low unemployment rate. A first consequence of this could be an increase in the population’s salaries (when the workforce demand is higher than the supply), but in the long term, this can limit the growth potential of new investments. A solution would be to attract workforce from other regions, a model that has become traditional for Banat.
Lastly, economic prosperity is also reflected in entrepreneurial density. This indicator shows that the areas of entrepreneurship in Banat overlap with areas with a good demographic vitality (natural or migratory), good infrastructure and good connections. The centre of entrepreneurship is Timișoara, with over 30 businesses for every 1000 inhabitants, three to five times more than the average at the periphery.
The income and buying power of a region is an expression of its economic dynamism. Among these, the volume and rhythm of constructions reflects a territory’s capacity to evolve and restructure itself.
In this sense, Banat has seen an important increase in new residences, but their polarisation is considerable. In 2016, Dumbrăvița, Moșnița Nouă and Giroc, the suburban communes around Timișoara, emitted over a third of all the constructions authorisations in Banat.
At the same time, the “desertification” of the constructions field in the rest of the region should raise questions about the concentration and dispersion of resources, economic activities and living spaces.
With a duration of the average stay in Banat of 2,52 nights, the region is above the national average. But tourism is, in fact, restricted to a small number of settlements: Băile Herculane, Brebu Nou, Văliug. Only there the ration between accommodation beds and the number of inhabitants is higher than 0.7. Basically, in none of settlements/resorts the number of beds is higher than the number of inhabitants.
There are, however, a few areas with touristic potential and a growing number of accommodation units: Timișoara with its surrounding areas, Muntele Mic and the Danube valley.
Overall, Banat has 21.211 accommodation beds for a population of over 1.3 million inhabitants, way under the potential of the area, and in the context in which a considerable number of tourists is being projected for 2021, when Timișoara will be a European Capital of Culture.
Out of the 739.459 persons who arrived in Banat in 2016, 312.150 of them arrived in Timișoara, which confirms the city as a touristic and business pole. The rest of the settlements in the plain areas (apart from Timișoara’s suburban area) only recorded sporadic touristic activity, as most tourists were attracted by the communes and towns in the mountainous Banat.
In the context of Timișoara – European Capital of Culture, several urgent interventions are required:
- increasing Timișoara’s accommodation capacity;
- developing touristic projects in the areas outside Timișoara (not more than an hour away drive) which would offer alternative accommodation to tourists and increase the duration of their stay;
- developing strategies and actions that would integrate several touristic areas and create touristic routes;
- promoting Banat on the international scene, to raise the visibility of the various touristic activities that happen here;
- creating events that would valorise the human and natural potential of Banat’s countryside, and offer the villages a starting point for developing through culture.
After carrying out the geographical and statistical analyses, we conclude that there are a couple of structural and territorial structural elements that should be taken into account in this project and in the future, for strategies and actions. The general remark is that we are dealing with an area that has different speeds:
- from a demographic point of view, there is a rift between the plane areas (more densely populated, with larger settlements, and generally on the rise demographically) and the mountainous areas (with dispersed settlements, aged population, and in high or medium demographic decline);
- from the point of view of movement and migration, Banat is a region of differentiated migration. If towns are losing people, and the hemorrhage of population in the communes in the south is evident, at the other pole, the communes around Timișoara are receiving inhabitants at an unprecedented rate;
- from an economic perspective, the area around Timișoara is a national and Euroregional hotspot, but the scarcity of workforce risk reducing its development perspectives.
We therefore make the following recommendations:
- the need for public investments in local and national transport infrastructure is becoming stringent; these should connect small settlements to their closest pole and, on a different scale, the region of Banat to the centre of the country, to Bucharest and Serbia. These axes would remove from isolation whole areas of Banat, diminishing the risk of depopulation and demographic aging;
- investments in technical and utilities infrastructure would improve life quality in those areas and increase their attractiveness for investors;
- in areas where workforce is limited (unemployment rate under 2%), the need is starting to become clear for actions (from the part of authorities and businesses) to stimulate the migration from other parts of the country, in order to ensure Banat’s economic competitiveness in the long term;
- Timișoara and the surrounding communes need to consolidate their logic as a “Growth Pole”. Timișoara needs to have its prerogatives and financial and decisional competences confirmed and strengthened in order to be able to design coherent plans for the whole functional and geographic area, beyond administrative borders.
Otherwise, the chaotic development of this area could lead to irreversible dysfunctionalities.
This study was originally published in the MOVING FIREPLACES. 2017-2018 book.
Photo credit: Diana Bilec