Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Peri-urban issues

28 Apr, 2017
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Agriculture, Article, City, Climate change, Disaster, Gender, Gorakhpur, peri-urban, PeriUrban, Resilience, Rockefeller Foundation, Urban

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Peri-urban issues

By 2030, one in every three people will live in cities. The impact of this on the cities and its infrastructures will be enormous. In such a scenario, the peripheral land around these cities becomes important both in terms of opportunities and vulnerabilities.

Here is a compilation of simple queries to understand peri-urban aspects better.

  1.      What is understood by peri-urban areas?

The dictionary defines peri-urban as an area immediately surrounding a city or town. Generally used in a narrow, geographical sense, it is used to describe the informal settlements that adjoin cities, a hybrid landscape where activities of the rural and urban population often juxtapose without any clear cut demarcations. Thus, they are neither truly urban nor rural, but occupy a space between the two, in such a way that urban and rural features co-exist here.

Peri-urban may be thus understood as a fast-changing, semi-natural ecosystem which provides natural resources for growing cities while depending on the urban markets for sales and employment. It is a two-way interaction that places a low premium on preserving the ecosystem, affecting not only the livelihoods of those directly dependent on it but also the city itself.[i]

  1.      What is the definition of peri-urban areas?

Achieving a precise and accurate definition of peri-urban is a challenging task and there is no clear cut consensus on the actual definition of the word. Not clearly definable, given the contextual and situational specificities involved, in most parts of the world peri-urban spaces are rapidly expanding and being occupied by increasing numbers of people (Dutta, 2012; McGregor et al., 2005; Kayser, 1990). In reality it is a complex, dynamic, transitional space whose boundaries are in flux, dependent upon various factors; often conceptualised as:

  • The transitional zone between a sprawling city and its rural surroundings (Dutta, 2012)
  • ‘neither rural nor urban in its outlook and characteristics’ (Prakash, 2012 : 2)

For a glimpse of the complexity and topical nature of this definition, here are a few of the more established usages:

  • Complex mosaics of juxtaposed activities previously regarded as incompatible: Simon (2008)
  • An ‘uneasy phenomenon’ characterised by ‘either the loss of rural aspects (loss of fertile soil, agricultural land, natural landscape, etc.) or the lack of urban attributes (low density, lack of accessibility, lack of services and infrastructure, and ‘lack of urban attributes’: Allen (2003)
  •  ‘Peri-urban’ used as a term qualifying areas with mixed rural and urban features: (Laquinta, D., L, Drescher, A., W, 2001)
  •  Peri-urban interface is often described “not [as] a discrete area, but rather [as] a diffuse territory identified by combinations of features and phenomena, generated largely by activities within the urban zone proper’: Nottingham and Liverpool Universities, 1998 
  1.      What characteristics make peri-urban areas both distinct and vulnerable?

Urban does not stop or rural begin, immediately at the edge of a city. These areas on one hand have great potential, but they also face crippling disadvantages due to certain primary characteristics. They are typified by mixed agricultural and non-agricultural land uses and flows of goods, services and resources between villages and urban centres and a perpetually changing heterogeneous social population. This leads to specific environmental and natural resource problems beyond the scope of urban or rural governments individually which need innovative approaches (Prakash, 2012, Narain, 2010; Allen, 2003).[ii]

Peri-urban areas generally are characterised as :

  • A transition zone
  • A crowded, contested space
  • Very vulnerable
  • Sites of rapid growth
  • Neither geographically nor conceptually well-defined
  • No clear cut government policies defined
  • Environmentally more unstable than rural or urban areas
  • Face uncertain land tenures
  • Have inferior infrastructure, low incomes
  1.      What are the issues faced by peri-urban areas?

People living in the peri-urban areas are often at the forefront of major issues, that include the following:

  •         Depleting resources like water, forests, open green lands
  •         Degraded environment
  •         Intense pressure on land, resources & existing ecosystems
  •         Lack of adequate services like sanitation, transport or water supply
  •         Used as dumping grounds for city’s waste
  •         Degradation of agricultural land
  •         Rapid land use change
  •         Human health issues
  •         Social impact as occupations change
  •         Non farm use of agricultural land
  •         Deteriorating quality of life
  •         Deforestation
  •         Pollution
  •         Non-existent mechanisms for public service deliveries
  1.      What services does a peri-urban ecosystem provides to people?

Ecosystem services provided by a peri-urban areainclude the following:

  • Supporting services: Ecosystem services ‘that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services’ (MEA, 2005: 40) such as nutrient dispersal and cycling, seed dispersal, primary production.
  • Provisioning services: Products obtained from the ecosystems such as food, fuel and water, fodder, fibres, genetic resources, medicines, energy or ornamental products. Asian Cities Climate Resilience 7
  • Regulating services: ‘Benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes’ (ibid) such as carbon sequestration and climate regulation, waste decomposition and detoxification, water and air purification, natural hazard mitigation, pest and disease control or erosion control.
  • Cultural services: ‘Nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences’ (ibid).[i]
  1. What is peri-urbanisation?

When urban grows disorderly and sprawls to peri-urban area, this process can be referred as peri-urbanisation. It is also defined as the processes of dispersive urban growth that creates hybrid landscapes of fragmented urban and rural characteristics.

Peri-urbanisation also leads to usurpation of ecologically sensitive lands for housing and other construction activities. These change the face of agriculture, reduce open spaces, enhances pressure on natural resources like water. These areas are marked by a lack of hygiene and sanitation infrastructure, industrial effluence, air pollution and inadequate provision of basic services. Often, the solid waste of a city is dumped in peri-urban areas (Marshall et al., 2009:7).[i]

  1.      How are urban and peri-urban areas interdependent on each other?

Peri-urban areas depend on urban areas for schools, hospitals and government services, improved infrastructure facilities and better employability avenues. The peri-urban areas provide larger land holdings, cheap labour, agricultural produce and fresh food to those living in urban centres. This changing reality increases the movement of people, goods and services between the two. Agriculture in peri-urban areas helps in alleviating food insecurity and is also instrumental in enhancing the nutritional status of the marginalised or the urban poor.

  1.      What types of environmental degradation occurs in peri-urban areas?

These areas of hurried expansion and development face the following environmental challenges:

  •         Threat to existing ecosystems
  •         Groundwater depletion and contamination
  •         Dwindling natural resources
  •         Urban heat islands
  •         Ungoverned solid waste management and disposal
  •         Increased air quality pollution
  1.      What are the areas of conflict between the two?

Peri-urban areas are usually subject to a whirlwind of construction activity in a short span of time. The drastic land use change coupled with divergent interests may lead to land dispute or conflict. Also, these zones being cheaper and generally under tenuous regulations, offer an alternative for informal settlements around the city.

  1.   Who is responsible for peri-urban areas?

There is no official term ‘ peri-urban’ in the government’s dictionary. No parameters identify it, and they are neither recognized as a space or a social unit. They do not fall within the city’s official jurisdiction and lack critical infrastructure and governance systems. They are thus not served by any municipality to provide basic services, nor are a priority for departments dealing with rural development. Hence, these areas become nobody’s children; and no one bears responsibility for them. [iv]

10. What is urban climate change resilience (UCCR)?

UCCR is understood as the capacity of cities to function, so that the people living and working in cities— particularly the poor and vulnerable—survive and thrive in the face of shocks and stresses related to climate change. [ii]

Urban resilience to climate change describes a city that is resilient on three levels: the systems of the city survives shocks and stresses; the people and organisations are able to accommodate these stresses into their day-to-day decisions; and that the city’s institutional structures continue to support the capacity of people and organisations to fulfil their aims.

The Rockefeller Foundation defines urban resilience as the capacity of cities (individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems) to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it.

  1.  How can peri-urban areas contribute to UCCR?

Peri-urban areas and their ecosystems provide essential services that contribute towards climate change resilience in the following ways:

  •         Open spaces act as buffer during floods
  •         Helps in water drainage and infiltration thereby preventing waterlogging & improving groundwater recharge
  •         Green space improve flood retention capacity
  •         Ecosystems services
  •         Agriculture of peri-urban green space as flood retention
  •         Social cultural values
  •         Livelihoods options
  •         Water bodies provide water management options
  •         Multifunctional land use improves conservation and resilience
  •         Bio diversity abundance
  1.  Should I be concerned about peri-urban dynamics?

The number of urban dwellers is growing by 2 per cent a year globally. So whether you live in a city or near it, you will be affected by this rapid rate of urbanisation taking place around you in some way or the other. Rural migration to cities, air quality, loss of empty, green spaces; these and many more will affect residents like you and the environment around them. And inclusion of the climate change factor increases the need to become more resilient.

  1.  How can I know more about what’s happening in this space?

There is a huge amount of interest to understand how peri-urban ecosystems function, what are the services they provide, and why are they important for political economy and sustainable growth.

A recently formed group ‘Urban, Peri-Urban and Ecosystems Working Group’ looks at how nature can help improve urban resilience and help mitigate the impact of natural or manmade disasters. You can join this initiative, which hopes to be a learning platform for exchange of ideas and experiences across the various landscapes. ACCCRN partners, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), Mercy Corps Indonesia and Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation, look at critical themes here, to be able to undertake joint advocacy initiatives in a collective form.

Click here to register.

  1.  Can I share information or issues with the working Group?

The working Group has been set up for sharing of information and ideas between individuals, organisations and varied places. For this, you will need to register first.

You may also write to us with any related queries or for further information at . We look forward to your feedback.


[i]  Mitra, A., Wajih, S and Singh, B., 2015. Wheezing ecosystems, livelihood services and climate change resilience in Uttar Pradesh.  ACCCRN Working Paper Series 18.

[ii] ADB, 2014. Urban Climate change: A synopsis

[iii] Urban Climate Change Resilience in Action: Lessons from Projects in 10 ACCCRN Cities

[iv] Omair Ahmad, The Third Pole, 2016; Climate resilience in peri-urban areas

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