UrbanRural: one system, many tensions

Notes from a meeting with the Beijing Institute of Agriculture and Forestry at Space Syntax London, 18th September 2013.

Common themes
Production
The rural landscape is a place of production. So is the city: production of goods and production of ideas.

Protection
Protection of natural assets in the rural landscape. Protection of historic buildings in the city. Avoidance of pollution in both. Protection of water courses – natural and artificial in both.

Waste
Avoidance of waste in both urban and rural settings. The rural landscape as the wastebasket of the urban landscape. Tension.

Movement
Conflicts in the rural landscape between local movement (agricultural productivity) and urban-rural movement (commuting). Tension.

Cultural identity
National identity is comprised of both urban and rural components eg UK tourism industry: the brains, the soil, the UK built environment.

Living
Industrial migration from the rural landscape to urban settlements (UK C19th and China lateC20th and C21st). Depletion of the rural population. Risks for agricultural production. Tension.

Construction of ineffective housing in the rural landscape, distant from urban settlements, often targeting “easy” sites, but not creating places that people want to live. An unsustainable depletion of productive rural land. Tension.

UK-specific living
Migration back to the rural landscape for wealthy people. Inflation of rural house prices. Shortage of affordable rural housing. Resistance against construction of significant additional rural housing. Tension. Problematic experience of New Towns construction creating some places that do not perform socially and economically – later identified for retrofitting at significant expense. A problem of urban planning and design eg Skelmersdale, Cumbernauld. Sometimes demolished. Parallel problems in urban centres eg post-war housing estates: substantial later remodelling at significant expense. In the meantime, concerns about living in cities and urban flight where possible: often only by the wealthy. A leadership that often hasn’t lived – at least full time – in urban settlements yet is responsible for their stewardship.

Rapidly developing economies can anticipate this tension through urban planning and design in two ways: a) making existing urban settlements more “liveable” and b) creating “liveable” new settlements.

The urban planning and design dimensions of “liveability” need to be understood: these pertain at all scales, from choice of location at the regional scale to the detailed design of streets and buildings. The relationships between scales are critical. Great places work at more than one scale of human activity.

Introduction to Space Syntax: a) the science of spatial layouts and human behaviour, b) presentation of the Beijing Region Model.

Conclusion
To be truly sustainable, urban systems and rural systems need to be considered as one. Planned and designed as one. Managed as one because they are lived as one.

In the specific context of planning and design science, urban and rural systems need to be modelled as one object and at a level of resolution down to the fine scale of individual streets and even individual buildings. The UrbanRural continuum.

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