Settlement Geography

Rural urban fringe: Concept, History, Reasons, Issues

What is the rural urban fringe?

Rural Urban fringe is an important concept in settlement geography. The rural urban fringe is the boundary zone outside the urban area proper where rural and urban land uses intermix. It is the area where the city meets the countryside. It is an area of transition from agricultural and other rural land uses to urban use. Located well within the urban sphere of influence the fringe is characterised by a wide variety of land use including dormitory settlements housing middle-income commuters who work in the main urban area. Over time the characteristics of the fringe change from largely rural to largely urban. Suburbanisation takes place at the urban boundary of rural urban fringe.

Related: Burgess model or concentric zone model

History of rural urban fringe development:

  • There was widespread inner city development immediately post WW2. But this did not create enough housing units for all those who needed them.
  • Others were built on the edge of towns and cities.
  • Most of the residential growth is outwards into the suburbs. Population density is lower than that in the inner city and the houses are usually larger as the land is cheaper.
  • As residential use started spreading to the suburbs, transportation network developed, increasing connectivity of the suburbs to the inner city.
  • From the 1970s, out-of-town shopping centres took advantage of cheaper land prices and more space.
  • After that many companies moved their offices and factories to the edge of the urban area for similar reasons, where they could take advantage of better transport links as well.
  • From the late 1970s, many cities have lost population to counter-urbanisation – people leaving the cities for a variety of reasons.
    • People want a better quality of life in quieter, cleaner rural surrounding
    • More people are willing and able to travel further to work
    • Relocation of businesses to places with better transport links and cheaper building costs
    • Flexible working and new technology have increased part-time home working.
    • Retired people leave the city where they once worked.
  • This has led to the smaller towns and villages in areas with good communication links to expand – a lot of ‘in-filling’ has taken place. In-filling is building in gaps within the village or town boundary (known as the village/town envelope).
You might be interested in  Rural-urban continuum and causes of rural-urban continuum

Increasing demand for land in the rural urban fringe area because:

  • Land is cheaper – as the accessibility of the RUF is lower than that of the inner city areas and most of the people have to travel to the inner city for work, fewer people are willing to live in the RUF. Thus the land prices are lower.
  • There is less traffic congestion and pollution – as the area is a new development in the outskirts, and the population living in the area is lesser than the inner city, the traffic congestion and pollution levels are lesser.
  • There is easier access and a better road infrastructure – as it is a newer development with a lot of space available.
  • There is a more pleasant environment with more open space – the amount of open space decreases with time as the extent of development increases, and so does the pleasant environment.

Related: Multiple Nuclei Model of 1945

Rural urban fringe

Beneficial development in rural urban fringe area:

The rural urban fringe is characterised by a mixture of land uses, most of which require large areas of land.

  • Housing developments as urban sprawl continues
  • Science and business parks
  • Hyper-markets and superstores
  • Retail parks and out of town shopping centres
  • Office developments
  • Hotels and conference centres
  • Airport expansion

Competition between city and countryside (urban and rural):

Housing developments

Housing demand is growing rapidly. Some of the reasons for this are:

  • a growing population
  • more elderly and retired people
  • more divorced and single people
  • increasing numbers of immigrants
  • more people buying second (holiday) homes

Solutions to the housing crisis – where to build?

Related: Rural-urban continuum and causes of rural-urban continuum

Retail developments:

It is aimed to attract shoppers away from the dirty and congested CBD by providing shops in a pleasant and clean environment, protected from the weather and with free parking. Eg. The metrocentre. The Metrocentre opened in 1983 and was the first out-of-town shopping centre in Britain.

You might be interested in  Hoyt Model or Sector Model (1939) of Urban Land Use by Homer Hoyt

 Reasons of developing  shopping centres like the metrocentre on greenfield land in the rural urban fringe:


Objections to the Metrocentre

Problems caused by developing the rural urban fringe:

  • Large areas of countryside may be lost
  • Buildings may be out of character with existing rural buildings. Thus loss of aesthetic sense
  • Villages may become suburbanised
  • Traffic is likely to increase (both cars and lorries)
  • there may be increase in pollution (noise and air)

Issues in Urban rural fringe

Uses Positive AspectsNegative Aspects
AgricultureMany well managed farms and small holdingsFarms often suffer litter, trespass and vandalism; some land is derelict in the hope of planning permission
DevelopmentSome well-ited, carefully landscaped developments such as business and science parksSome developments, such as out of town shopping areas cause heavy traffic flow and pollution. Unregulated businesses such as scrap metal and caravan storage. Airport expansion
Urban ServicesSome, such as reservoirs or cemeteries, may be attractive.Mineral workings, sewage works, landfill sites etc can be unattractive and polluting
TransportNew cycleways and footpaths can improve assess to countrysideMotorways destroy countryside and promote new development, particularly near junctions.
Recreation and sportcountry parks, sports fields and golf courses can lead to conservation. Some activities such as stock car racing and scrambling erode ecosystems and create localised litter and pollution
Landscape and nature conservationMany SSSI (sites of special scientific interest) and AONB (Areas of natural beauty)Much degraded land eg. land ruined by fly-tipping; many SSSIs under threat


Read about: Burgess Model or Concentric Zone Model, Central Place TheoryTactical Urbanism, Rural-urban continuumHoyt Model or Sector Model,



  1. Nice write up on planning, I am urban and regional planning student and I find this helpful

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