Rural settlement and the changing village

The spatial dispersal of Estonian rural settlement is quite different from the location of the towns. This has been, first of all, influenced by the differences between Higher and Lower Estonia, which in their turn have been shaped by natural conditions and forms of development. Besides natural conditions, rural settlement has been influenced by political and economic processes, i.e. land and ownership reforms (the latest land and ownership reform, started after Estonia re-gained independence, has not yet been fully completed).

Today’s settlement and administrative divisions have mostly been shaped on the basis of manor houses. Here, too, regional differences play a significant role. North Estonian manor houses were smaller and more numerous; villages clustered around them and were mostly quite compact. South Estonian manor houses were bigger, and the villages were scattered, being to a large extent dispersed settlement areas. The buying of farms proceeded differently in North and South Estonia as well. An important process shaping rural settlement was the land reform that began in 1918, after Estonia became independent. Former manor house lands were covered by a network of scattered agricultural smallholdings. Even the Soviet collective farms and state farms failed to destroy this network. Big settlements emerged in the centres of successful collective and state farms, together with service sectors and production enterprises. With increasing wealth, it became fashionable to erect grand cultural centres, administrative buildings and private houses. In the 1990s when the impact of the Russian market diminished, villages became considerably poorer. The second land reform, starting after the restoration of independence, returned the land that was illegally expropriated by the Soviet authorities, to the rightful owners. State-supported loans helped set up new farms. Agriculture, however, has not regained its previous significance, and people seeking better jobs keep moving from the country to the towns.

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