Urban/Rural or Settlement Intensity? What Do We Really Need to Define and Measure?

Authors: Michael Ratcliffe*, U.S. Bureau Of the Census
Topics: Applied Geography, Urban Geography, Sustainability Science
Keywords: Urban, Rurality, Settlement, Sustainable Development
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Like other statistical agencies, the Census Bureau provides information about the number and characteristics of residents of urban and rural areas. To do so, the Census Bureau delineates urban areas after each decennial census based primarily on population density but also including measures accounting for non-residential urban land uses. Changes in settlement patterns on the periphery of urban areas have raised questions about the appropriateness of the urban-rural dichotomy, the need for a continuum of categories, and different levels of rurality. The question is not merely one of measurement and thresholds, but also classification—what do we mean by terms like “urban,” “suburban,” “exurban,” and “rural?” In this presentation, I reflect on recent research and discussions about the classification of urban and rural and of global human settlement patterns as well as the analytical and programmatic needs for such classifications, and ask whether we need to continue attaching specific terms to measures of settlement patterns. In measuring, analyzing, and reporting on human interactions and impacts on the environment, does it matter whether population is urban, suburban, or rural? Should we focus on measures of population size, density, settlement intensity, and proximity to/isolation from other settlements?

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