Urban and rural areas – Characteristics and examples

We explain what an urban area and a rural area are and what the characteristics of each are. Also, what are the peri-urban areas.

urban and rural area
The urban area is usually linked to industry and the rural area to agricultural production.

What is an urban area and a rural area?

When we speak of urban spaces or urban areas, or of rural spaces or rural areas, we refer, respectively, to the city and the countryside. These they are the two fundamental habitat spaces of the human species, in which the majority of the population is found.

Thus, when we speak of an urban area, we refer to city life, in its multiple varieties, linked to industrial production; while the rural area is linked to agricultural production and country life. These have been, for many centuries now, two spaces in dispute in human populations, as well as two complementary spaces.

In the abstract, it seems very easy to distinguish the rural (agriculture, the countryside) from the urban (the city, the urban center) but the global trend is that both habitats gradually become more homogeneous, especially due to the rapid growth of what they call the “urban spots”, that is, of the urbanized regions.

This is a feature of modern life, since in earlier times, such as medieval times, the boundaries between one thing and the other were very noticeable and very radical. In fact, most of humanity originally lived in agricultural environments, where the land was cultivated and lives in contact with the rhythms of nature.

But the rise of new activities and modes of production, over the centuries, ended up creating large urban units -cities, metropolis, megalopolis- in which a very important sector of the population was concentrated, in what is known as the rural exodus, a consequence of the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.

Characteristics of the urban area

urban and rural area city
About 56% of humanity lives in urban areas.

Broadly speaking, urban areas are characterized by the following:

  • They consist of urbanized regions, that is, in which there are buildings, public works and predominance of artificial materials and durable, like concrete.
  • In them you will find the largest percentage of the current populationAccording to the World Bank, about 56% of humanity lives in urban areas. This means that they are regions with a very high population density: many people sharing the same space.
  • The industrial economic activities, especially those of the secondary sector (manufacturing) and tertiary (services). This makes cities depend on agriculture for their food.
  • They centralize economic, cultural, scientific and technological development, public services and it is also the seat of political power and the State. It is not for nothing that the capitals of the countries are cities, and not rural areas.
  • They have high margins of environmental pollution, due to the concentration of people, automotive transport and industrial activities.

Perfect examples of urban spaces are any of the world’s great cities: London, New York, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Moscow, etc. No matter its size or its historical importance, every population considered as a city is an example of an urban area.

Characteristics of the rural area

urban area and rural countryside
In rural areas there are both agricultural regions and protected areas.

For its part, the rural area is characterized by the following:

  • They consist of country regions, that is, geographic regions with important presence of trees, plantations and a lot of green. There may or may not be wildlife in them.
  • They contain the smallest percentage of the world’s current population, 46% of humanity according to World Bank data. This means that they have a low population density: fewer people spread over large areas of land.
  • The productive activities of the primary sector, such as agriculture (agriculture, livestock, fishing) or extractive (mining). Their food production is much higher than local demand, and thanks to this they can supply food to the cities.
  • They may be source of tourist attractions, since in them are the National Parks and Natural Reserves.
  • They have a low coefficient of cultural, scientific and technological production compared to cities.
  • Its extensions are wide and its much lower contamination margins, although not for that reason non-existent: the substances used in mining or pesticides are an important source of contamination on a local scale.

Examples of rural areas are the majority of agricultural production regions, national parks and conserved areas, such as the cattle plains of Argentine Patagonia, the South American Amazon Rainforest, the vineyards of French Burgundy, the traditional rice fields of Cambodia, or cotton fields on the banks of the Nile in Sudan.

Peri-urban areas

Peri-urban areas are known as a kind of intermediate region between the urban nucleus and the rural space, and that tends to be found in the peripheral regions of the big cities.

It is not an easy area to delimit, since its borders with the urban are diffuse, unclear. However, in it you can already appreciate characteristics of the rural, such as a larger area of ​​land, a lower population density and the eventual appearance of small-scale agricultural activities.

They are also regions where slums may abound, like the marginal conurbations that surround many Latin American capitals.

An example of peri-urban areas can be the suburbs of US cities, generally dedicated to wealthy families from the 1970s on; or the extensive Buenos Aires suburbs that surrounds the capital of Argentina for almost 30 km, housing populations of all kinds.