March 10, 2014

Reimagining the Urban and Rural as Integrated City Region Landscapes

Thomas Forster, The New School

Editor’s note: Originally posted on, this piece by a co-author of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative’s new report, City Regions as Landscapes for People, Food and Nature urges people who care about sustainable development to break down the divide between urban and rural.

An urban garden in Japan. Photo by Kazari Getz Kikuchi.

In the past few years, there has been a new urgency in understanding the relationship between urban, peri-urban and rural systems. These systems are inextricably linked and provide important food and natural resources to dwellers across the urban-rural continuum, thus resiliency and sustainability can not be realized in one without considering the other.

Since the beginning of human settlement, there has always been an exchange of goods, services, people and culture across landscapes that include towns, cities and countryside. Yet, the urban and rural have grown apart in many countries. Often, there is tension and even conflict between the priorities and psyches of urban and rural communities regarding cultural and political differences and disagreements over natural resource management of water, food and energy.

Recently, the unprecedented growth of towns and cities has altered the dynamics of the urban-rural exchange. Migrations of millions from rural to urban areas can dramatically increase these tensions, putting strains on urban services and capacities while marginalizing rural communities and pushing them further apart while they still remain so interdependent.

The world as a whole is becoming increasingly urban, and tomorrow’s cities will have an even more dramatic impact on rural peoples and resources. It is estimated that the urban estate will more than double by 2050, mostly in the global south and China. However, the reach and impact of this urban growth profoundly impacts natural and cultural resources far beyond urban boundaries.

The reality of dramatic urban growth, its impact on the rural areas of the world and the unknown variables of dramatic climate change and economic volatility has brought new attention to urban-rural linkages. Research shows that the future resilience and sustainability of both urban and rural communities will require strengthening the urban-rural continuum and the resource base of food, energy, water, soil and biodiversity. Urban and rural communities need each other more than ever.

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