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Rural areas cover a multitude of natural and cultural landscapes, activities, and functions, including not only villages and agricultural areas, ranging from traditional to intensive monoculture systems, forests, various parks, and wilderness, but also services and commercial sites, as well as educational and research centers. Specifically, rural areas provide living space for their inhabitants and for flora and fauna and, as buffer zones, fulfill significant balance functions between unpopulated wilderness zones and overloaded centers of dense development. Because of this complex diversity, our understanding of rural areas must consider more than how land is used by nature and humans. That is, our understanding must also encompass the economic and social structures in rural areas in which farming and forestry, handicraft, and small, middle, or large companies produce and trade, where services, from the most local to the most international (such as tourism), are provided. In addition, some rural areas represent valuable ecological balance zones through preservation and/or conservation establishments. All these factors create and evolve into a tight interdependence, interconnection, and competition.
Yet, today, over 54 percent of the world population (7,536 million)1 lives in urban areas and the proportion of the urban population is growing at a rapid rate. Thus, urbanization is one of the most important geographic phenomena intoday’s world. Towns and cities are in constant flux. Historically, cities have been influenced by technological developments such as the steam engine, railroads, the internal combustion engine, air transport, electronics, telecommunications, robotics, and the internet. As the result of the global shift to technological-, industrial-, and service-based economies, the growth of cities and urbanization of rural areas are now irreversible. Moreover, another phase of transformation is under way, involving global processes of economic, cultural, and political changes.
Within the cities of the developed world, the economic reorganization has determined a selective recentralization of residential and commercial land use connected especially with a selective industrial decentralization. In contrast to the core regions, where urbanization has largely resulted from economic growth, the urbanization of peripheral regions has been a consequence of demographic growth, generating large increases in population (overurbanization) well in advance of any significant levels of urban or rural economic development. Luxury homes and apartment complexes, corresponding with a dynamic formal sector of the economy, contrast sharply with the slums and squatter settlements of people, working in the informal (not regulated by the state) sector.