One in five people in Europe live in rural towns of under 50,000 people. Founded as trading, defensive and administrative centres, these towns have undergone dramatic and rapid change due to increasing personal mobility and the shifting nature of the rural economy. Examination reveals preserved historic cores surrounded by sprawling low density housing estates, industrial units and retail stores. By drawing people away from town centres, these developments erode the sense of community and public life and increase reliance on the car. In-migration of city dwellers attracted by a perceived higher quality of life has raised demand for housing, pricing out local people. The character and sense of place at the heart of the popularity of rural towns as places to live and work is under threat.
The Localism agenda and National Planning Policy Framework offer the opportunity to re-think our approach to rural towns. This paper critiques prevalent development strategies and proposes a place-specific alternative. A vision for dynamic, well connected and compact rural towns is described through design studies carried out by the authors. The approach:
Recognises the virtues and possibilities of inherited urban fabric;
Re-connects town centres to their suburbs and hinterland;
Integrates new homes into town cores;
Creates opportunities for a flexible mix of uses.
The study argues that the growth and evolution of sustainable rural towns should be as much spatial as it is economic and political and suggests a positive role for architects in enhancing the experience of living and working in a 21st century rural town.
Jones, M., & Forster, W. (2015, February). Reimagining rural towns: A design-led approach. Paper presented at Re-imagining Rurality