Schwerte shouldn’t be left to dwindle away
In many regions in the next few years there is to be a decline in population combined with a sharply increasing average age. The councillor of the town of Schwerte does not want to make the best of a bad bargain.
For the Federal Republic of Germany and its regions, demographics describe a clear decrease in population and indicate demographic change. A higher life expectancy of older people and decreasing birth numbers are leading to a population development reversal, which will require an increase in immigration. This development is reflected in the frequently quoted phrase: “There are fewer of us and we are becoming older and more varied.”
The decreasing and changing population development in the coming decades will lead to central changes in the economic, infrastructural and social development of society. It also forces local politics to reach fundamentally new considerations and organisational solutions. The town of Schwerte within the Unna district, situated on the border of the northern Sauerland region, created a demographics panel a year and a half ago in some local authorities in the State. The goal: Schwerte is meant to hold a population of about 50,000 and become and remain appealing for older people and families alike.
Should a town like Schwerte really be spending money on politicians who come up with possibly vague perspectives on population development? What is the use of involving local politicians? Questions like these were asked, sometimes on the quiet. The conflict with the demographic change in Schwerte found its point of origin in 2004 with the organisation of the panel for social issues, demographics and generations. In 2006, with the support of the Bertelsmann Foundation in the framework of a model workshop, the strategy concept "Orientation frameworks for demographic change in Schwerte" was developed, which was enacted by the Councillor of the town of Schwerte.
In 2007 employees in administration, politicians and other protagonists of the Schwerte community all completed demographics training. As a result, the Mayor set up a cross-functional competency team, consisting of specialists from the relevant admin areas, and awarded the contract for compiling a Schwerte demographics report.
“The more you deal with the effects and look for alternatives, the lower the negative consequences,” says president of the panel Marco Kordt (CDU), taking positive stock of the previous activities. “It’s our goal to strengthen the sensitivity for the topic among the population. Everyone is affected by it.” Therefore, the infrastructure up to now can’t be maintained because the number of children is decreasing. “For instance, nurseries in every district can’t continue to be supported.” Also schools will have to close. “It’s about getting the best we can,” says Kordt. For example, through the establishment of family centres.
With the support of the company GEBIT, the competency team will, in future, be working on the assignment, data, specialist topics and portfolio planning as a basis for compiling a comprehensive demographics report.
A distinguishing feature was the development and orientation of an age group model, which offers a sophisticated illustration and a specific view of the need for action in the different age brackets. For instance, people in the 18 - 25 age bracket, which is moulded by academic and professional education, and when you look at people aged between 25 and 40, their age bracket is moulded by other conditions; namely personal living conditions relating to mobility requirements, starting a family and settling down in one location. People over the age of 65 are preoccupied with the question of meaningful leisure pursuits when they retire and good provision of care for mobility restrictions and nursing care.
For the town of Schwerte, the report forecasts a decrease in population in the age groups below 65 years and a sharp increase in older people and senior citizens. The over 80 age group will rise to over 87% by 2025. A development which will pose challenges for the entire town’s development. These challenges can only be successfully handled using combined efforts from all corporate forces. Citizens, societies and associations and the local economy, as well as administration and local affairs must be incorporated into this change. It isn’t just the projected aging of the Schwerte population with decreasing birth numbers which requires corresponding measures. But also the progressive globalisation of the economy with effects on the local and regional employment market will bring future developments which should be mapped out. Low levels of public finances also clearly restrict the political scope of creativity of local authorities so that even more synergy effects than before must be used enhancing cooperation and networking with different players.
The demographics report ends with a summary stating recommendations for local political actions. These recommendations identify different possibilities for bringing about and implementing change and offer guidelines for action for administration and politics. “The local authority is required to do its utmost to ensure that districts are preserved as being areas where people like living and feel good,” states president of the board Marco Kordt.
Further information relating to the latest Schwerte demographics report can be downloaded at: http://schwerte.kdvz.de/site/fileadmin/download/publikationen/50/50_Demografiebericht.pdf