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Peri-Urban Futures

Kate Swade

Could the land between our towns and countryside hold the key to a more sustainable future? Kate ponders the productive potential of the edgelands.

Book your place at our #PeriUrbanFutures event here.

“Britain’s towns and cities do not usually sit cheek by jowl with its countryside, as we often casually assume. Between urban and rural stands a kind of landscape quite different from either. Often vast in area, though hardly noticed, it is characterised by rubbish tips and warehouses, superstores and derelict industrial plant, office parks and gypsy encampments, golf courses, allotments and fragmented, frequently scruffy, farmland.

Marion Shoard, Edgelands, 2002

Peri-urban land, the land on the edge of our towns and cities, is some of the least glamorous land that we have. Sometimes called the urban fringe, Marion Shoard coined a more evocative term in her wonderful 2002 essay (read it here), Edgelands, in which she makes a passionate case to value these spaces as landscapes in their own right.

Much (but not all) peri-urban land is designated as green belt: a planning tool that exists to stop urban sprawl, towns slowly creeping into the surrounding countryside. Greenbelt itself is not a designation: as Shoard says “[Its] purpose remains the creation of firebreaks between genuinely valued landscapes, not to tease out the essential qualities of the distinctive landscape that develops on urban edges, and to enhance it in its own right.

Things have changed since Shoard wrote this award winning essay in 2002, but the debate about the best use of this type of land continues, the building of new homes, and how (and whether) to do so while protecting the visual character of the greenbelt.

Here at Shared Assets we think peri-urban edgeland could hold the key to a more sustainable future. A more solarpunk future, if you like – one where multiple different actors are using land in diverse, productive ways, meeting community needs and creating shared benefits in the process.

We want to shift the conversation about the edgelands into thinking about the role that peri-urban (and therefore peri-rural) land can play in supporting both town and country, and we’re really pleased to be co-hosting an event on the 20th November in Birmingham to discuss just that.

For many of the common good land users we work with this land has potential to be a real sweet spot, particularly for growing food and fuel. It’s close to markets, consumers, and populations of potential volunteers and trainees, which you don’t get in the countryside. It’s often got good agricultural soil quality, and enough space for growing at scale (and sometimes existing horticultural or silvicultural infrastructure), which you don’t get in the town. It’s where many of the community forests have been planted, which are a potentially valuable productive resource.

here @shared_assets we think the edgelands could hold the key a #solarpunk future, one where multiple different actors are using land in diverse, productive ways, meeting community needs and creating shared benefits in the process.

The productive use of peri-urban land is often thwarted by the planning system, however. The need to “maintaining the rural character” of a greenbelt area often mitigates against productive use, despite, as Shoard describes, the character of the edgelands being often quite distinct, and fundamentally functional. Could the sprawl-resisting role of the greenbelt be actually enhanced by supporting more social enterprise woodlands and community-led food enterprises?

We aren’t planners. But we do a lot of thinking about what kind of planning system we need to support land use for the common good. We want to explore what changes might be needed to unlock the potential the edgelands have to be the foundation for a sustainable future.

Join us at the fabulous Impact HUB Birmingham on the 20th November to think about a number of possible Peri-Urban futures and to start a conversation about how we reach them.

 

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