Periurban areas 
3/7/16

The planet is becoming urbanised at a galloping rate, particularly in less developed countries. By 2050, three billion additional people will find themselves living in and around towns and cities. Experts are concerned: without a minimum of organisation, these changes risk to accentuate the precariousness of huge swathes of the world’s population. At the heart of their concerns are ‘periurban areas’, an emerging concept which has been the subject of research led by Jan Bogaert, Head of the Biodiversity and Landscape Research unit at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech/University of Liège and Jean-Marie Halleux, Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Liège. This is also an opportunity to discover the ‘Central Africa Platform' of ULg.

COVER Territoires periurbainsThe history of mankind has experienced several major ruptures. The neolithic revolution, which opened the door to sedentarisation and agriculture, was one of these, followed by the industrial revolution some 10,000 years later. Since the last century, humanity has seen a new rupture, the urban transition. It marks the shift from a period where rurality dominated towards a period where urbanisation becomes predominant. In other words, a very large majority of humans are becoming urban dwellers. This urban transition is striking by the speed with which it is taking place: while nearly three billion people currently live in towns in developing countries, this population will reach about five billion by 2050! In sub-Saharan Africa, the figures are staggering: between 2000 and 2050, the number of city-dwellers will have multiplied by five, and the area of urbanised land will have multiplied by twelve!

This massive displacement towards towns is, in reality, a periurban transition. It does not simply means leaving the countryside to move to the town but rather, given the scale of this entirely new demographic movement, occupying space in an unprecedented way. Indeed, periurban spaces are not ‘towns’ in the traditional sense of the term, but neither are they ‘countryside’. How can these hybrid areas be defined? And above all, how can human activities be organised in these areas in a harmonious way, given that they are intended to become the home of - no less - the majority of human beings in the future? This is the core question of a joint publication hot off the Presses agronomiques de Gembloux, ‘Territoires périurbains. Développement, enjeux et perspectives dans les pays du Sud’ (1). Coordinated and edited by Jan Bogaert and Jean-Marie Halleux, it brings together contributions from more than 80 authors from a variety of disciplines.

A purposely chosen theme

‘This publication follows a conference organised on the same topic in December 2013 at Gembloux, which brought together experts from both north and south’ explains Professor Jan Bogaert, Head of the Biodiversity and Landscape Reseach unit at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech. ‘It seeks to go further than simply publishing the proceedings of the meeting. Indeed, at the end of the meeting, we felt it was appropriate to publish the presented papers into six major sections. The first is simply setting the context and attempting to define what a ‘periurban area’ represents. We consequently address five main issues of these periurban areas: natural resources, food security, public health, public services and, finally, spatial planning’.

The conference, and the book which emerged from it, was, indeed, one of the first institutional initiatives of the 'Central Africa Platform', which is developed by the Centre for Development Partnership and Cooperation (PACODEL) of ULg. ‘The periurbanisation of developing countries was chosen as the overarching theme of the 'Central Africa Platform' ’ specifies Jan Bogaert, who is also the President of PACODEL. ‘By choosing this theme, we are putting ourselves at the heart of rapid social, cultural, economic and environmental transformations which are taking over societies in countries in this part of the world. As such, it is an ideal field to encourage discussions between researchers and institutions in both the northern and southern hemispheres, involving all disciplines, from medicine to sociology and including disciplines such as anthropology, hydrology, agronomy, geography, or political and social sciences. Please note that between 8% and 10% of students at the University of Liège (Liège, Gembloux and Arlon) originate from developing countries...’

(1) Territoires périurbains. Développement, enjeux et perspectives dans les pays du Sud. Edited by Jan Bogaert and Jean-Marie Halleux, Presses Agronomiques de Gembloux, 2015. Available at: http://orbi.ulg.ac.be/handle/2268/188554

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