The urban-rural dichotomy in contemporary urbanization processes: emerging conflicts and collective action

Luca Garavaglia,

University of Eastern Piedmont, Italy

In XXI century, the rural-urban discourse in Europe took new pathways, regarding both issues and their scale: the advent of the information society, the new attention to sustainability and environmental protection and, more recently, the changes determined by the Covid-19 pandemic introduced new arguments to the debate, while the extension of urbanization processes at regional scale and the development of urban networks at global level enlarged the arena of conflict, bringing the urban question to new spatial dimensions. The paper discusses these transformations presenting examples from urbanization processes taking place in northern Italy, where complex city-region dynamics are unfolding, generating strong interdependencies between metropolitan areas, medium-sized cities, industrial, agricultural and peripheric areas: as a consequence, new conflicts arose on the urban-rural fringe and in marginal areas, regarding the spatial distribution and the accessibility of public services, quality of life, sustainability, economic competitivity. At the local level, networks of public and private actors have been able to produce new forms of collective action in order to respond to emerging problems, but issues organized at trans-territorial scale are much more difficult to challenge, due to the difficulties in the coordination of different public administration and to the lack of preexistent experiences of cooperation between actors.

Cities in the Souths of the world are experiencing the same challenges regarding urban growth and sustainability, and some of them are producing strong and original responses in terms of collective action. Yet, those contexts cannot be interpreted with concepts and tools developed to study the urban-rural dichotomy in western cities, because of the differences in their social, economic and historical conditions. A more complex paradigm is needed, in order to better understand how the new global geographies of capitalism and power impact on local contexts all over the world, and how communities and local stakeholders can play a role in the governance of processes which are transversal to all traditional administrative boundaries.