The PLUREL project

PLUREL: Peri-urban Land Use Relationships – Strategies and Sustainability Assessment Tools for Urban – Rural Linkages

Plurel is a large research project funded within the 6th Research Framework Programme of the European Union. 31 partner organisations from 14 European countries and China participate in the project. It is led by the University of Copenhagen. The project started in 2007 and terminated in 2011.

Challenges of Urbanisation

Urbanisation is arguably the most significant process of land use change in Europe. Over 70% of Europe’s population is now living in urban areas, and these in turn have grown by almost 80% over the last fifty years (EEA, 2006). The most obvious signs of this are the spread of built-up areas, and the creation of large transport networks, but the establishment of recreational facilities such as theme parks and golf courses and the conversion of farmsteads into residences and hobby farms in near-urban landscapes are also very visible markers of this drift to urbanisation.

The changing nature of the relationship between rural and urban land uses has deep consequences both for human quality of life and for the environment. To understand the processes that drive these changes, we need to improve our knowledge and create better tools to assess the future social, environmental and economic impacts of these changes. Only then can we identify effective strategies for the planning of sustainable land use systems.


The PLUREL project will develop the new strategies and planning and forecasting tools that are essential for developing sustainable rural-urban land use relationships. These strategies and tools, generic in nature, will support the analysis of urbanisation trends in the EU so that ways can be identified of both supporting this process and mitigating its negative impacts. In this way the PLUREL tools will help improve the quality of life of the population living in cities as well as in the peri-urban and rural surroundings. PLUREL will evaluate costs for the implementation of these strategies, and help stakeholders to better understand, plan and forecast the interactions between urban, peri-urban and rural areas.


RUR – Rural-Urban Region

PLUREL’s main subject of study is the Rural-Urban Region (RUR). This is based on the concept of a Functional Urban Region – an urban core and its surrounding commuting ring – which can extend to include both the rural and peri-urban regions. The RUR, however, extends beyond today’s rings of intense interaction with the core city and includes areas of recreational use, food supply and nature reserve functions in predominantly rural areas.

Research Approach

PLUREL consists of five interrelated research modules:
Module 1 describes the underlying driving forces of, for example, the urbanisation process, as well as other relationships between urban and rural areas. Examples of such driving forces are Europe’s overall economic and technological development, demographic changes, and climate change.
Module 2 translates these general trends into demands on land use, resources and public participation in the interface between rural, peri-urban and urban areas. This includes analysis of different strategies for urban growth (or shrinkage) patterns (compact, sprawling, site-specific and site-adequate).
Module 3 implements these pressures or demands on a local, urban region level in seven case studies. Different scenarios for urban development are developed in an inclusive way, involving main stakeholders.
Impact assessment in Module 4 is carried out with economic, social and environmental methods and indicators.
Finally, Module 5 synthesises the results into a toolkit for planners and user-friendly information, such as input to GEO-compatible databases to support decision-making at European and regional levels. The site-specific and site-adequate conceptual approach as a basis for new strategies is elaborated upon, as are tools to enhance impact assessment.


Case studies

Six European case studies were chosen to explore in depth the land use relationships between rural and urban areas: Warsaw, Leipzig, Den Hague, Manchester, Montpellier, and Koper.

The case studies reflect the variability of geographical, economic and social conditions prevailing in Europe but they are also characterised by different cultures of governance. Population trends differ remarkably between the case study regions, and range from growing areas (poly-centric Haaglanden, Montpellier, mono-centric Warsaw) to a region with significant and ongoing population decline and shrinkage (Leipzig). These general trends are translated in different ways into rural-urban development patterns within the study regions. To give one illustrative example, population decline in Leipzig is coupled with still ongoing suburbanisation.


The project will engage in a Chinese reference study to explore the relevance of the results to the very rapidly urbanising areas in Asia and to compare the spatio-temporal developments. Hangzhou, a rapidly growing rural – urban region of 6.6 million inhabitants has been chosen.



Major outcomes

PLUREL will produce a toolkit of three interrelated components:

1. Sustainability Impact Assessment Tool for Rural Urban Regions (SIAT-RUR)
A 'Sustainability Impact Assessment Tool' to forecast the consequences of European and regional policies on land use in urban, peri-urban and rural areas and assess their impacts on the social, economic and environmental sustainability of rural – urban regions. Socio-demographic, economical and technological drivers of land use change will be equally taken into account.

2. Best Practice and Planning Guidance
Strategies for sustainable land use relationships in rural-urban regions will be developed in close co-operation with local stakeholders. The results will be made available as 'Best Practice and Planning Guidance'.

3. Data and Map Information Portal
A 'Data and Map Information Portal' that gives access to timely information on rural-urban regions, including scenarios of land use development, spatial data, and more.