The future of rural places

Authored by: Michael Woods

The Routledge Companion to Rural Planning

Print publication date:  January  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138104051
eBook ISBN: 9781315102375
Adobe ISBN:


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At some point in the early 2000s, the world passed an historic threshold with more than half the global population living in cities and towns for the first time. This new age of global majority urbanism has inevitably posed questions about the future of rural places, and indeed the relevance of ‘rurality’ as a concept. As such, this chapter engages critically with a range of literature to explore three prospective scenarios for the future of rural places. The first envisages continued and intensified urbanisation diminishing rural space and cultures, and draws on the concept of ‘planetary urbanisation’ which contends that all parts of the world have effectively become ‘urban’. The second scenario recognises the inter-connection of rural and urban places with a ‘global countryside’, but emphasises the capacity of rural places to influence their own futures. It considers globalisation not as a domineering or homogenising force, but as a transformation that works through rural places with multiple potential outcomes. In this scenario future rural places may take on new functions within global networks, for example as specialised amenity spaces, or as providers of ecosystem services. The third scenario speculates as to whether rural places could be revitalised in a future post-carbon society, as some writers have suggested, supporting sustainable lifestyles more viably than cities. The chapter examines possible precursors of such a trend in intentional eco-communities, the ‘back-to-the-land’ movement, and ‘crisis counter-urbanisation’, but also discusses the potential costs at local and societal level. Across all three scenarios, the chapter discusses the implications for the planning and governance of rural areas, including challenges of working across rural–urban and international boundaries, and the prospect of tensions between external technocratic visions for future rural land uses and endogenous discourses of rural identity.

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