Part I: Introduction to Europe's Rural-Urban Fringe
Consolidating rural practice with urban need is a central goal of the PURE Hubs project, with the achievement of this goal being supported through the construction of a collection of ‘hubs’. The diverging design of each hub will inherently create an assortment of ‘hub activities’ and hub locations, with each hub being tailored around its spatial setting. With an expanding array of hubs in existence a snapshot image is emerging in relation to how ‘hub location’ can impact the type and scale of activity(ies) a hub performs. The connection between location and activity may appear at first readily apparent, but this apparentness can often become blurred and indiscernible for hubs located in areas which are neither deeply rural nor urban. An interesting avenue of exploration thus emerges in relation to what the characteristics, challenges and opportunities of these intermediary areas, which intersect rural with urban, are and what they can offer for the PURE Hubs.
In a three part blog the team at Liverpool will venture into the realm of ‘Rural-Urban Fringe (RUF)’, with this first blog providing an introductory chapter into the European scenario.
'In reality the distinction between urban and rural (the rural-urban dichotomy) can be not so ‘clear cut’ as this artists drawing illustrates.'
The European Rural-Urban Realm
Traditionally ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ were long expressed as being distinct and separate entities with history demonstrating that, up until the industrial revolution and the development of the rail and road network, cities were demarcated by city walls. The result of these walls was the clear separation of the city and the surrounding countryside and wilderness beyond. Whilst such a precise ‘rural-urban dichotomy’ may still influence the perception of rural and urban areas the working reality is somewhat different. The reality of the rural-urban situation can be illustrated by the following image, which depicts land use in the border area between Netherlands and Belgium (where some of the PURE Hubs are located). What can be seen in the image is the blurring of urban and rural land uses throughout the territory, with red and violet areas indicating built up areas.
Source: Corine Land Cover 2006 http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/explore-interactive-maps/cor...
The image exhibits the complexity of the physical structure or morphology of many of these intermediate and fringe spaces. Beyond the morphological dimension, the functional link between urban and rural is also important with tradition dictating that the role of the countryside was to supply the city(ies) with food and other natural resources. In actuality, the modern arrangement comprises of a multitude of goods and services which flow between urban and rural within the rural-urban realm. The following diagram provides an overview of some of these flows:
Although the image above takes into account a variety of inter-spatial flows, it provides a simplified working model which assumes a clear-cut differentiation between rural and urban areas. The complex rural-urban morphology, relies intrinsically on the relationships that reside within the intermediary territory between core urban and rural locations. Hence, the ‘rural-urban fringe’ provides a facilitating territory for rural-urban relations; forming an important link between urban and rural areas and an important feature of the European landscape.
European Rural-Urban Fringe Dimensions
As a collective territory Europe is one of the world’s smallest continents accounting for 7% of the Earth’s landmass. In the perspective of population however, Europe accommodates over 12% of the total global population making it one of the most densely population regions of the world (ESA, 2006). The distribution of the population, alike with definition of urban and rural, is not readily evident although it is indisputably skewed towards urban living. Statistics published by ‘EUROSTAT (2012)’ reveal that: 41% of the European population reside within deeply urban areas, 35% in intermediate regions, and 23% in deeply rural areas. Not only then are intermediate regions an important zone of population accommodation, they also encompass a vast spatial area of approximately ’48,000km2’ (PLUREL, 2010) – this landmass being almost equal to that of all core European urban areas.
The development of urban areas follows a meandering path which fluctuates between growth and decline, with European urban areas at present experiencing an annual growth rate of land used for urbanisation of ‘0.5-0.6%’. In comparison, the urban hinterland or fringe zone) is enjoying a growth rate of ‘1.4-2.5%’ almost quadruple that of the core urban areas (PLUREL, 2010). As a result, it is estimated that within 30-50 years Europe’s fringe zone will double in size, a clear sign of the vital role the fringe plays and will continue to play in Europe’s future. Concern surrounding the growth of the fringe does exist amongst spatial planners and environmentalists in relation to the detrimental impacts of urban dispersion, often compared to the negative aspects of urban sprawl in America.
Urban growth trends appear to be continuing as shown in recent analyses by the European Environment Agency (please see link – EEA Analyses). The analyses also highlights the extensive variation in the change in land use patterns across Europe, an event influenced by different land use planning regimes, cultural attitudes towards open space and differences between accessible and rural areas.
Exploring Europe’s rural-urban fringe has illustrated the importance it holds within Europe’s rural-urban fringe and the importance it will hold in the future at least indisputably in spatial scale (if current growth rates continue). But what are the characteristics of the fringe? This is a question we will explore in the second part of our blog: Characteristics of the Rural-Urban Fringe.
On behalf of the team in Liverpool
Peter Fawcett & Andreas Schulze Bäing
- European Space Agency (ESA) (2006) “6-Europe: a developed continent”
- Eurostat (2012) “Around 40% of the EU27 population live in urban regions...” News Release 51/2012 – 30 March 2012.
- PLUREL (2010) Peri-Urbanisation In Europe: Towards European Policies to Sustain Urban-Rural Futures. Executive Summary.