In the same way that rural areas have been a source of food, raw materials and labour for cities, cities have historically been places of opportunity for rural dwellers.
Cities and towns provide markets for agricultural products, specialised services (health, higher education, wholesale, government and finance), and even sources of temporary employment and shelter for some rural household members. The nature and intensity of rural-urban linkages vary between regions of the world and even within countries, as well as in response to economic, political and environmental factors.
DPU staff are involved since 1998 in research seeking a better understanding of how rural-urban linkages in different contexts are shaped by factors such as economic policies, administrative measures and planning regulations.
A common thread is the premise that such processes and institutional factors help shape livelihoods, particularly those of the poorer and more vulnerable groups. Parallel to this is a series of research projects on the peri-urban interface (defined as the meeting of the urban and the rural), and the problems and opportunities it offers both in terms of livelihoods and the sustainability of adjacent rural and urban areas.
As urbanisation advances, urban peripheries are transformed to accommodate both poor migrants and highly exclusive semi-rural gated communities, often leading to a reinvention of the urban condition and the gradual blurring of an urban-rural dichotomy.
The urban metabolism represents another strand of DPU research. This seeks to critically document flows that help configure urban boundaries and determine how resources (including knowledge and power) are distributed in the city as well as specific governance models implemented in the peri-urban interface.