Urban and rural areas represent two systems of interaction and symbiosis. Throughout history, the urban-rural divide has mainly been based on the differentiation of economic activities. In the long pre-industrial era, the countryside dominated strongly over the cities.  The rapid development of the global economy has led to profound changes in urban-rural relations, and the creation of urban prosperity has come mainly at the expense of rural interests, making the issue of rural decline a global phenomenon. Currently, the countryside has been where agriculture and other areal activities have been performed, while non-agricultural activities have taken place in cities and towns. Long-standing “biased” policies have resulted in a substantial gap between urban and rural areas regarding infrastructure, public service support, and living environment.

In developed and developing countries alike, rural areas, particularly those agriculture-based and far away from the city regions, have inevitably experienced depopulation and induced problems like recession and social degradation. Rural areas generally have experienced challenges such as labor outflow, resource shortages, environmental pollution, and economic weakness.

Trajectory of growth

Influenced by globalization, industrialization, urbanization, and informatization processes, the traditional agriculture- and natural resource-dependent villages either fail to transfer their economic base from the older to the newer forms of capital investments, or they are less capable of transforming themselves into sites where the affluent groups from cities can enjoy rural landscapes and livelihoods.

Sustainable development requires paying more attention to rural revitalization, especially recognizing the reality that a wide gap exists in the pace and level of rural development. The spatial optimization of rural settlements is considered a valuable solution for stimulating rural vitality. However, rural development has different stages and trajectories, which have been overlooked in the spatial optimization process for a long time. Some densely populated villages with better economic bases will gradually become the growth poles and have the potential to transform into cities.

Rural decline, characterized by population loss, aging, and idle land, has depressed rural economic vitality, especially in underdeveloped areas. At the same time, rural evolution is often accompanied by land agglomeration, functional improvement, and hierarchical differentiation. Villages in the stagnant stage indicate currently self-sufficient communities. Their rural industries are still localized, small-scale and homogeneous activities that are mainly serving the local market.


Life cycle theory is universal; it refers to the cyclical process and laws in nature and human society in which entities undergo birth, development, maturity, and decline, including cities and villages as human settlements. With the movement of resources between regions, some villages have evolved into cities, some have transformed into tourist villages, while villages with poor adaptability to external interference have gradually declined or even died out.

Image: Universal Lifecycle of Villages


Rural evolution results from the comprehensive effect of regional policy, location conditions, and the natural environment. In the early stage of rural formation and development, natural factors such as terrain and climate play an important role. The village morphology and development levels vary greatly among mountainous hills, plains, and basins. Villages geographically closer to towns or transportation routes can obtain more resources and have easier access to urban markets, putting them at the forefront of rural restructuring.

Attempts such as improving local infrastructures, consolidating rural land, and restructuring dispersed settlement patterns have been introduced to meet the challenges presented by rural decline. Compared with the material contents of a village or rural community, like infrastructure and resource endowment, the immaterial contents, like social capital, have proven their usefulness and suitability in explaining why some places are more successful than others in producing a high level of material wellbeing.


In the context of rapid urbanization, the function and structure of the countryside and the shape of rural settlements are transforming. The sustainability of rural development requires objectively considering the life cycle while addressing the contradiction between residents’ demands for living quality and infrastructure layout inequalities.

The article is based on : Linking rural settlements

Image Courtesy: https://adigaskell.org/



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