According to some social scientists, May 23, 2007 marked the date when the proportion of urban population on Earth surpassed rural dwellers, while the UN certified this happened sometime in 2008. One of the obvious consequences of this shift is the need for more physical space for cities, causing urban encroachment where once there were fields, forests and other types of open spaces. Around the world there is a widespread concern about the sustainability of urban expansion as it affects food-producing farmlands, forestry industries and ecosystem services provision by non-urbanised areas. There are particular geographical hotspots, namely in China (Lichtenberg and Ding, 2008).
Peri-urban agriculture is as old as cities, but its promotion and preservation has gained momentum in the last decades in response to new concerns related to the sustainability of food production, and also in regional planning (e.g. green infrastructure provision, open spaces conservation, ecosystem services). Bengston et al. (2004) summarised some of the farmland management tools available in the United States, outlining more than 30 mechanisms for “managing urban growth” or “protecting open-space”, connoting them as “two sides of the same coin” (Bengston et al., 2004: 273). In Europe devices such as “agri-parks” or “agricultural parks”, absent in other continents, have been developed (Yacamán and Zazo, 2015), echoing the protection mechanisms for natural areas, from national/natural parks to agriculture in peri-urban and non-peri-urban areas. However, it remains questionable to what extent these tools have been effective in avoiding urban intrusion and promoting agriculture and/or forest preservation given the intensity of urban dynamics and pressures. In particular, it seems difficult to guarantee the sustainability of urban areas while, at the same time, maintaining its farmlands and open spaces nearby.
This thematic session welcomes contributions around these questions:
> Is reconciliation possible between urban/metropolitan/spatial/city-region planning and farmlands and rural areas?
> How can agri-ecological infrastructures and frameworks be planned and designed at urban/metropolitan/spatial/city-region scale?
> What organisational tools and partnerships for urban-rural joint policies, ventures and projects have been developed and what is their performance?
> Is environmental protection in peri-urban areas compatible with farmland and rural preservation?
> How can we bridge the gap between the peri-urban farmlands understood as farming (productive) areas, on the one hand, and as green infrastructure/open space conservation, on the other?