At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 15 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2050, almost three quarters of the world’s population is expected to live here.  In India, 31.16 per cent of the total population, about 377 million people, already live in urban areas (Census of India, 2011). Thus as cities are stretched to their limits, they break through the existing boundaries, and begin to expand and grow. And the population influx overflows into the city’s peripheral land, which is neither totally urban, nor remains rural much longer.

This transitional area, the peri-urban space, soon becomes the ground for unprecedented and hasty transformations in the name of development and progress. This expansion and the ensuing land-use change destroy ecosystems, leading to a host of related problems. Add to these the archaic policies that view urban and rural in terms of people or geographical spaces, and the impacts are grossly multiplied.

Why is direct attention to this essential area lacking? Is it because ‘peri-urban’ space itself is not clearly understood even as pre-conceived ideas persist about them?

We view peri-urban area either from a geographical, land-use, or a social relations perspective. We understand it on the basis of its proximity to an urban area, because it lies just outside the city municipal area, the people living there or maybe based on the un-urban like activities that occur there.

Assumptions of rural-urban areas too exist:  Rural livelihood must be agriculture, horticulture or animal husbandry based; Urban has to be associated with manufacturing, services and commercial activities. We forget about the sectoral interactions that occur here, rural activities do take place in urban areas and services in rural or peri-urban areas.

Thus, only a place based definition provides an incomplete picture of what peri-urban areas are like. This ‘space’ must envelop dynamic interactions between population and the landscape; their associated land uses and livelihoods; and support the notion of a vibrant flow of agricultural goods and ecological services both within this zone and between it and the urban core areas.

Also, peri-urban boundaries are constantly in the state of flux and are shifting. This area experiences high spatial uncertainty, which results in undesirable, complicated land use/land cover. They are most vulnerable to loss of biodiversity and vegetation. This necessitates the protection of land use patterns and common property resources. But does that always happen?

Share with us your views and experiences, so that together, we understand our peri-urban spaces a little better.

  1. Do the current top-down policies for land acquisition by the land authorities in our developing cities consider social equity and environmental integrity?
  2. Is the peri-urban land primarily viewed as a future extension of a city’s master plan?
  3. How does your city view its peri-urban space?  Do the city laws persist there or is it a ‘nobody’s child’? 

This blog was first published by the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, ACCCRN, here and is on the various notions of peri-urban spaces from an Indian context. A discussion thread has been initiated on the understanding, definitions and conceptualizations of peri-urban areas. Often this issue of clear notions and definitions of peri-urban spaces has been seen as an impediment in the overall development and governance of peri urban areas. 

We invite you to please share your experiences from your countries and regions so that we can together understand these peri urban spaces in a better way. 

Join us at our Urban, Peri-Urban and Ecosystems Working Group, where we exchange ideas and experiences and undertake joint advocacy initiatives in a collective form,  to map the diversity of problems between cities and landscapes, and the real and potential scale of loss & damage.




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