2. Growth of periurban spaces

Learning objectives

  • Understand the concept of periurban
  • Understand why an appreciation of periurban spaces is important
  • Understand some common features and processes that characterize periurban spaces

Key Concepts

periurban spaces, ecological foot-print, urban expansion, urban wastes

Peri-urban space in theory and practice

This session introduces the concept of periurban spaces. As urbanization advances, there occurs a concomitant growth of intermediary spaces between the rural and the urban, that display features of both, but suffer from institutional neglect and apathy. They often provide the resources needed for urban expansion, while receiving urban wastes. They are characterized by changing land use, social and economic heterogeneity, growing contestations and conflict over natural resources, institutional transition and vacuum and changing flows of goods, services and resources between rural areas and urban centres.

Rapid urban expansion of the kind described, however, in many nations proceeds concomitantly with the growth of periurban areas that have elements of both ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ characteristics and present new challenges to urban growth management (Tacoli, 2006). These areas are areas of transition between ‘rural’ and ‘urban’, presenting some features of both. Cities are characterised by several changes; in particular an ever increasing metabolism and ecological foot-print as reflected in a growing demand for natural resources like land and water. Cities are in a state of transition, characterised by a wide range of changes and spatial divisions (Marcuse and van Kempen 2000). Cities, like other assemblies of organisms, have a definable metabolism, consisting of the flow of resources and products through the urban system for the benefit of urban populations (Gerardet 2004). The metabolism of most cities is understood to be essentially linear, with resources being pumped through the urban system without much concern about their origins or the  destination  of wastes, resulting in the discharge of vast amounts of waste products  incompatible with natural systems.  Periurban spaces serves as the source of the resources and inputs needed by cities, while also serving as the receptacles of the wastes generated.

2. Issues of peri-urban areas

The concept of ecological foot-print helps us understand the implications of urban expansion for the use of natural resources. Ecological foot-print analysis is an accounting tool that enables us to estimate the resource consumption and waste assimilation requirement of a definite human population or economy in terms of a corresponding productive land area (Wackernagel and Rees 2004). The total eco-system area that is essential to the continued existence of the city is considered to be its de facto ecological foot-print on the earth. It is proportional to both population and per capita consumption. For modern industrial cities, the area involved is considered to be of the order of magnitude larger than the area physically occupied by the city; it represents the corresponding population’s ‘appropriated carrying capacity’. It is estimated, for instance, that for urbanisation, food, forest products and fossil fuel use the Dutch consume the ecological functions of a land area over fifteen times larger than their country (Wackernagel and Rees  2004).

The concept of ecological foot-print thus give us some answers to the questions or estimates regarding a city’s resource metabolism (Wackernagel  et al. 2006). By measuring the overall supply of and human demand on regenerative capacity the ecological  foot-print serves as an ideal tool for tracking progress, setting targets and driving policies for sustainability.  The concept has been important in encouraging urban planners and environmental managers to look beyond the traditional scales of planning and environmental management to consider the regional and international environmental impacts of a city’s activities (McManus and Haughton 2006).

It is now widely understood that the ecological foot-print of cities spills over well beyond the geographical limits of the city. Periurban spaces rapidly grow in importance with the onset of urbanization as they bear the ecological foot-print of urban expansion, both in terms of providing the resources and inputs as well as receiving urban wastes. Urban settlements depend on their hinterlands, as a source for natural resources and rural products, as sinks for wastes and as sites for expansion. Urban expansion transforms the use patterns of the  land whose use is determined by demand both for land based products and for resources such as water whose appropriation changes land use patterns (McGranahan 2006). As the demand for the water in several cities of the global south has grown, cities look further and further a field for their water sources; the phenomenon of cities acquiring water from other uses, notably agriculture, in cities like Kathmandu, Ahmedabad and Chennai  as also in smaller towns and urban centres has become common (Meinzen-Dick 2000). Water transfers may be private, unplanned and ad hoc, with individual well owners pumping water into tankers to be sold in the city, or public and planned, with water districts taking water from villages for selling to the city, with or without compensation to them.

3. Water security in peri-urban areas

Water is understood to have many values (Meinzen-Dick 2000):  social, ecological, religious, cultural and political. Meinzen-Dick suggests that a closer look at how municipal water is used reveals that very little of it goes actually into drinking; industrial, civic and business consume a large part of it. Urban and periurban agriculture may also use some portion of municipal water supply systems, either in small home gardens or in commercial horticultural systems production centers adjoining cities.

The growth of cities thus changes the patterns of water use and allocation between rural and urban areas;  emerging rural-urban linkages with the onset of urbanization transform the flows of water between rural and urban areas. In the subsequent sections of this module, we look at the concept of periurban, that captures the nature of rural-urban interlinkages and how water governance  – defined in terms of the exercise of control and authority over water resources – gets transformed through these linkages and processes. We review the concept of periurban and develop and present a set of conceptual frameworks and tools to study transformations in water governance and practices. The implications of these processes for water justice and conflicts are then presented.

4. Diversity of Periurban understanding in Europe


Key Readings

Key Readings
These readings will help you develop an understanding of peri-urban spaces in south Asia.

Further Readings

Further readings

Other related International Waters Lessons and Submodules


Next submodule: Conceptual issues and debates in classifying or demarcating periurban

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