The Intermunicipal Community (CIM) of Alto Alentejo: a vision of the future

The digitalization of the territory together with more vigorous inter-municipal associations takes smart communities to other levels of territorial development


The territories and especially the low density areas (ABD) are not poor, they are poor. Many resources are waiting and waiting for someone to convert them into territorial assets. Local and regional cooperation is one of these most decisive expectant resources. Without cooperation and the reinvention of local and regional-based associations, there are no intelligent communities. Without collaborative platforms and networks, there is no actor-network capable of generating sufficient network intensity to boost territories.

Territorial distinctive signs (SDT) are the starting point of the regional creative economy and the mapping of local markets, economic ranks and value chains is the starting point of the productive economy. These two territorial bases need to be reinvented and interact intensively, but in a much more intelligent and imaginative way. In these links between the creative economy and the productive economy, the techno-digital toolbox and the smartification of the territory of low-density areas (ABD) play a fundamental role. The digitalization of the territory together with more vigorous intermunicipal associations takes smart communities to other levels of territorial development.

In summary. It is necessary to reinvent regional-based associations to generate more intelligent communities. It is necessary to create collaborative digital platforms to increase the network intensity of communities. It is necessary to reinvent the territorial narrative about SDT to recreate the links between creative and productive economies. We need to use the pearl necklace of the creative economy – heritage and landscape, science and technology, art and culture – to promote creative intangibles and transfer their innovations to the productive economy.

Finally, it is necessary to transform a statistical nomenclature (NUTS III) into a desired territory and mobilize emotional intelligence, through art and creativity, for the consistent development of low-density areas. Let us think, for example, of the Intermunicipal Community of Alto Alentejo (CIMAA) and a vision of the future for this sub-region in the 2030 horizon. What are the most critical and pertinent questions at this moment and within this time horizon?

1 – In each municipality and in the CIMAA sub-region, which SDTs have the greatest visibility and multiplier effect and which value chains can they leverage?

2 – What is the state of the art in terms of local and sub-regional associations and what is its regional, inter-regional, cross-border and international projection and territorial relevance?

3 – What are the goods and services that can be considered emblematic and representative of the sub-regional economy and those with a more innovative and global growth potential?

4 – What are the creative goods and services that are already incorporated into the goods and services of the productive economy and those with an important potential to be part of the sub-region’s territorial branding?

5 – What is the state of business health in the sub-region and what is the potential for business succession and rejuvenation that can be promoted between now and 2030?

6 – What are the structuring projects that the sub-region absolutely needs in the 2030 horizon to begin a virtuous cycle of development and to accelerate the links between the creative economy and the productive economy?

To answer these most critical and pertinent questions, we can rehearse the outline of a vision for 2030, the time horizon of the main instruments of European, national and regional public policy. Of course, this cast is my sole responsibility.


Here is my proposal:

1- Shared center for digital resources: the objective is to create a territorial analytical platform for the sub-region.

2- Rural Base Incubator: the objective is to manage a soil bank and support young rural entrepreneurs in its installation.

3- CAIA Agroindustrial District: the objective is to create a logistics and business park in the southern part of the sub-region within the framework of cross-border relations.

4- Serra de S. Mamede agroecological park: the objective is to create a locally based agri-food system that is exemplary in the management of the agro-landscape mosaic of the Serra de S. Mamede.

5 – Secondary School of Arts and Technologies: the objective is to create young talents and the human and social capital of the future of the sub-region at CIMAA.

6 – Co-Housing and active aging network: the objective is to create an active aging program, a network of outpatient health and well-being care and, thus, begin the deindustrialization of old age.

7 – Youth Opportunities Bank: the objective is to create a platform that brings together information about internships, scholarships, residencies, jobs, microcredit, young business clubs, etc.

8 – Network of local markets and family farming: the objective is to create a network of short marketing circuits and logistics suitable for small farming.

9 – Intermunicipal circular economy network: the objective is to create a network that articulates all initiatives and projects in this area, from alternative energy communities to waste management and composting for regenerative agriculture.

10 – Intermunicipal Network of crafts, arts and culture: the objective is to create a collaborative platform for crowdsourcing e through crowdfunding to sustain a cultural and creative movement in the sub-region that is inspiring and, thus, captivates younger people to stay at CIMAA.

Final grade

These and other structuring projects, for example, the Crato multi-purpose enterprise and the Pisão dam, must be part of an Integrated Development Program for the sub-region and included in the more general scope of the operational programs of the PRR, the PT 2030, European and cross-border programs and, obviously, the Alentejo regional operational program. To this end, I believe it is advisable to create an operating system appropriate to this vision of the future, if we wish, through the creation of an actor-network for the sub-region that is an executive administration of the sub-region's strategic council.

Finally, I would like to express a kind of warning to navigation, called opportunity costs. Low density areas (ABD) suffer from a strong handicap. When the country has little own capital and the ABDs have a low rate of return in space and time, it becomes more difficult to invest in non-tradable goods in the interior ABDs instead of tradable goods in the more intensive coastal areas.

Therefore, a general and transversal differentiation or discrimination in ABD may appear counterproductive, despite its proven need. Be warned, a merely redistributive policy between municipalities to finance non-tradable goods will not take us very far.


Author António Covas is a Retired Full Professor at the University of Algarve