Introduction Introduction Chapter 5 Chapter 5
Chapter 1 Chapter 1 Chapter 6 Chapter 6
Chapter 2 Chapter 2 Notes for Indicators Notes
Chapter 3 Chapter 3 Notes for boxes Notes for boxes
Chapter 4 Chapter 4 Indicators Indicators
CHAPTER 4 Printer Friendly printer friendly version
Chapter 1 The Social and Sustainable Use of Space

Urban Growth and Sustainable Use of Space

Density, Urban Sprawl and Use of Land

The Discreet Charm of Suburbia

Sprawl and Peri-urbanization

To Sprawl or Not to Sprawl

Realistic Policies for Urban Expansion

Sprawl and Peri-urbanization(21)

The growth of cities in the developing world is dynamic, diverse and disordered—and increasingly space-intensive. This process of urban growth, largely in non-contiguous transitional zones between countryside and city, is increasingly being referred to as “peri-urbanization”.(22)Peri-urban areas often lack clear regulations and administrative authority over land use.(23)They suffer some of the worst consequences of urban growth, including pollution, rapid social change, poverty, land use changes and degradation of natural resources.(24)But, as opposed to suburbia, they are home to a variety of economic activities.

Peri-urbanization is fuelled, in part, by land speculation, nurtured by the prospect of rapid urban growth. Speculators hold on to land in and around the city, expecting land values to increase. They do not bother renting, especially if they fear that users might gain some rights to continued use or controlled rents. People who need land for residential or productive purposes must therefore find land further from the centre.

Changes in the structure and location of economic activity contribute greatly to peri-urban growth. Better communications and transportation networks make outlying areas increasingly accessible. Globalization encourages economies of scale in production and distribution, which, in turn, encourage large facilities occupying large tracts of land.



Peri-urbanization transforms rural settlements into urban ones without displacing most of the residents. An important characteristic of China’s urbanization since the 1980s, it has brought tremendous structural and physical change to vast rural areas. It has also blurred the lines between urban and rural settlements, especially in the densely populated coastal areas. Peri-urbanization has benefited large rural populations who might otherwise have gone to the slums of large cities. On the other hand, it lacks the economic advantages of agglomeration in large cities and has serious negative effects on the environment.

In a study of Quanzhou Municipality of Fujian Province, researchers used recent census data and geographic information systems technology to address the environmental and planning implications of peri-urbanization. They found that peri-urbanization has helped to transform the region into an economic powerhouse, led by small and medium-sized enterprises. However, the latter are under-capitalized and widely dispersed. Environmental problems also abound. With new resources for environmental protection and management becoming available, the challenge will be to encourage greater concentration, minimizing its negative effects while maintaining the benefits.

This deconcentration and decentralization of production is often found on the outskirts of the more dynamic cities, where growing workplaces and workforces can no longer find space in city centres, making spill-over growth inevitable.  In turn, the periphery offers cheaper infrastructure, land and labour, which encourage further peri-urbanization.(25)

In Asia, peri-urbanization tends to incorporate small towns along urban corridors spreading out from metropolitan regions, for instance, in China’s coastal regions, Bangkok’s metropolitan region, the Lahore-Islamabad highway, and in Viet Nam’s craft and industry villages in the Red River Delta. By contrast, in most of sub-Saharan Africa, cities expand around a single core.(26)

Peri-urbanization draws a migrant workforce and abruptly changes many rural residents’ economic activity from agriculture to manufacturing and services. Such changes have been particularly pronounced in East Asia, where agrarian villages have become leading edges of urban change.(27)

In East Asia, the combination of ill-defined property rights, export-driven policies and imperfect land markets has contributed to particularly rapid peri-urban growth.(28)In China, foreign investments have transformed rural economies and communities, often triggering major changes in social structure and human-environment relations (see Box 18). Peri-urbanization and its effects are not limited to coastal regions such as Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta, but have penetrated into the interior regions of the country, including Chongqing and Chengdu.(29)

Peri-urban areas often provide more accessible housing for poor residents and migrants in informal and scattered settlements.(30)Poor settlements in such areas tend to be more insecure and subject to removal, while their residents generally lack services and infrastructure. They compete with agriculture for space, and both can be displaced by other economic uses. Land conversion, market opportunities, and rapid flows of labour, goods, capital and wastes force land prices up.(31)Peri-urbanization also increases the cost of living for the original rural population.(32)



Agriculture is booming in urban and peri-urban areas. Farming in and around cities is a vital livelihood strategy for the urban poor; it provides nutritional health, income for other household expenses and mitigates some of the ecological problems of growing urban areas. The downside is that it continues to be illegal in parts of the developing world, and many local authorities are slow to recognize its important role. As primary producers of food crops in many developing-country cities, women stand to gain or lose the most as the future of this activity is determined.(1)Some promising efforts by NGOs—such as the Municipal Development Partnership for Eastern and Southern Africa (MDPESA), and its funding partner Resource Centre on Urban Agriculture and Forestry—are under way to bridge the gap between perception and reality. Through evidence-based advocacy and multi-stakeholder dialogues, it has encouraged local officials in Zimbabwe to recognize urban and peri-urban agriculture and join in endorsing the Harare Declaration, a commitment by several African countries to support urban agricultural practices.(2)

Peri-urban areas encompass a wide range of activities, including farming, husbandry and cottage industries, together with industrial expansion, land speculation, residential suburbanization and waste disposal.(33)They fulfil other key functions for urban areas, from the supply of food (see Box 19), energy, water, building materials and other essentials, to the provision of ecological services such as wildlife corridors, microclimates and buffer areas against flooding. This involves a complex readjustment of social and ecological systems as they become absorbed into the urban economy.

Since peri-urban areas are generally beyond or between legal and administrative boundaries of central cities, the capacity of government authorities to regulate occupation is particularly weak.(34)As a result, the process of urbanization can be, to a great extent, unplanned, informal and illegal, with frequent struggles over land use.

Environmental degradation is also an issue in peri-urban areas. Specific health hazards arise when agricultural and industrial activities are mingled with residential use. Some peri-urban areas become sinks for urban liquid, solid and sometimes airborne wastes.(35)The type, impact and gravity of such problems vary considerably.(36)The lack of regulation of these lands and their use can endanger the health of poor people who settle or reside there, because they may be exposed to hazardous substances in the air, the water they drink and the food they grow. Risks may be greater for low-income women and children, who are more likely to spend most or all of their time in their homes and immediate environs.(37)

The varied processes of peri-urbanization described here defy simple definition or quantification, but suggest that there must be opportunities for more social and sustainable uses of peri-urban space.



Burkina Faso’s capital city of Ouagadougou is a fast-growing home to more than a million inhabitants. A third of them now live in peri-urban “shantytowns” spread out over a large area. Sprawl hikes up the costs of providing the poor population with water and sanitation and increases their desolation. 

The French Agency for Development is supporting the Government of Burkina Faso in establishing roadway systems to improve transportation (45 km of primary infrastructure, including 18 km in the densely populated shantytowns of Bogodogo), as well as in devising innovative ways of attending to water and sanitation needs (including the sale of water in bulk quantities to an independent operator, in exchange for guaranteed distribution).

In addition, public spaces are being improved—pe­destrian pathways and sidewalks, street lighting and playgrounds—and shared water delivery points installed. The local population is actively participating in the vali­dation and financing of the proposed equipment. The capacity of the local Government to monitor and maintain the current road and sewer system infrastructure is also being strengthened. Providing basic services to such resource-poor residents of peri-urban areas directly addresses Targets 10 and 11 of the MDGs. Burkina Faso’s innovative technical and institutional responses in this regard are heartening. The main challenge will be to prepare for continued rapid expansion of the demand in housing and services.