The peri-urban space: Why it matters?

Takeaways Author: Nivedita Mani Comments
India: Gorakhpur

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population is expected to be urban. Already, cities across the globe face an unprecedented influx, for which they are neither prepared nor do they have the capacity to absorb. Ready to burst at their seams, our cities seem to be losing their resilience and adaptive capability.

With this background, the geographical areas near them or on their outskirts become even more significant. These are peri-urban spaces or transition zones which are neither truly rural nor urban. Located between the outer boundaries of urban and regional centres and the rural environment, they can offer room for a city to breathe, and increase its sustainability.

But for this to happen, it is imperative to understand the nature of this space, its limitations, and the rapid transitions that occur there.

A ‘Conference on Peri-Urban Development’ organised by the Indo German Centre for Sustainability, at IIT- Madras, and Centre for Study of Science Technology and Policy (CSTEP), Bangalore, dealt with the concept, emerging ideas and notions of sustainability in this area. The peri-urban space represents a wide range of uses, such as water catchments, forestry, recreation, and productive farming, as well as offering a unique ambience and lifestyle. Though considered important in the context of food security and improving livelihoods, it nevertheless competes for scarce urban resources like land, water, energy and labour.

The rapidly expanding urban centers strain existing natural resources. And the absorption of existing agricultural land on the city periphery leads to decreased green or ‘breathing’ spaces, interrupts supply chains of vital food items to cities, disrupts livelihood patterns of those living in these areas, and also increases heat island effects.

Climate change impacts exacerbate this already precarious balance. Floods, rising temperatures, droughts, water scarcity -  all these events adversely affect urban areas. The peri-urban space, therefore, becomes more valuable as it can provide a buffering capacity to the cities and also strengthen their resilience capacities.

Unfortunately, a lack of clear cut conceptualizations and related concrete policies, at both national and local levels, has ensured that peri-urban areas are the most threatened in terms of loss of biodiversity and vegetation, and land use changes (urban expansion, increasing land prices). However this space can play a key role in linking rural areas to urban are as in better ways, a key strategy for the Sustainable Urban Agenda.

A poster by Nivedita Mani, submitted at this conference, highlights the challenges faced in this fiercely contested space, and brings together all essentials needed to conserve peri-urban agriculture and ecosystems for building urban resilience in the context of the city of Gorakhpur, as an example.

And yes, our poster won a prize too!

Such vital spaces around cities are under constant threat due to unclear conceptualizations and appropriate policies. Thus, the need of the hour is to initiate a dialogue on the concept of peri-urban spaces and their governance, the role of peri-urban ecosystems in the context of food and nutritional security, and their contribution to building urban resilience. And more importantly, to ensure that all this information is shared with the stakeholders for a better understanding of the peri-urban spaces.

To download the poster, please go this link