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Conference paper
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ABSTRACT: This paper can be characterised as a symptomatic reading of the idea of ‘peri-urban’ and an exploration of the often difficult-to-define transformations it names. The overall, but indirectly approached, purpose of the exploration is to see what ‘peri-urban’ might offer to illuminate the thinking of problems of structural unsustainability, both globally and in Australia.

The paper begins by considering the term ‘peri-urban’ in the abstract, tracking its occurrences across a range of literature ranging from disciplines and professional practices such as geography, sociology, economic development, planning and agricultural extension. It is shown that ‘peri-urban’ has evolved from a simple spatial definition of the city’s perimeter or ‘rural-urban fringe’ through to definitions which emphasise social and economic dynamics, or which see the peri-urban temporally, as somewhere destined to become urban. It is noted that peri-urban is nearly always invoked in the context of naming problems, and that furthermore, it needs to be understood as a course grid through which to view the fine grain of local particularities.

Peri-urban is then discussed in the context of Mike Davis’s ‘Planet of Slums’ and the predominantly urban trajectory of global population growth, suggesting that ‘peri-urban’ might be a not-yet adequate way of naming a new (or newly remade) form of blended ‘rurban’ human settlement. This is then connected to the increasing mobility of urban ways of life and the widespread diffusion of urban values and lifestyles. While ‘peri-urban’ may name new rural-urban blended forms of land use, equally it names the blurring of ways of life, such as former city dwellers shifting to become part-time farmers and traditional farmers moving to ‘town jobs’ while continuing to live on the farm. Such shifts are argued as not just driven by ‘urban desires’, but also by the increasing industrialisation and technologisation of agriculture, which is squeezing out small and middle-sized farms.

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