Theme Agriculture and countryside in an urbanized society

Increasingly, Flanders is being labeled as an “urbanized area”. This term refers to the (sub)urban areas that fulfill many functions, where urban and rural areas are not strictly separated but rather interlinked. In the the “Flemish Metropolis” everyone has easy access to open space. That brings opportunities as well as challenges.

Rural development

The countryside as a resource

Open space is crucial not only for our food production, but also for climate change: to temper the heat-island effect and to buffer against flooding. It maintains biodiversity and creates a landscape for city-dwellers seeking rest and recreation. The countryside has not only natural resources, but also human resources. The presence of human and intellectual capital offers many opportunities for the development of open space. We can therefore consider open space or the countryside as an important resource, with an intrinsic power to stimulate transitions and innovations.

Support for consultation processes in rural areas

Despite their benefits, rural areas are increasingly under pressure. The world we live in is constantly changing. Globalization, climate change, urbanization and population growth are some of the challenges we are confronted with.

Various sectors and actors, such as agriculture, nature, tourism, residents, entrepreneurs, landowners, building sector, governments, etc. are all involved in the evolutions of rural areas. These actors are usually organized and can show their interests in various ways, both in the public space and in policy bodies.

The dynamics between these actors leads to changing processes in the countryside. We want to map the diversity of interests and expectations of these actors and understand the processes of how interests are prioritized. ILVO has built considerable expertise. Based on that, we wish to guide these discussion processes with various actors from the agricultural and food sector.

Preserving open space

ILVO occupies a unique place in the research for rural development in Flanders. We have considerable expertise regarding the spatial changes in rural areas and open space. ILVO will continue its research unabated to quantify and map these changes. In that way, our research helps to find ways to establish policies that address the pressure on open space. This may involve not only innovative strategies and instruments for maintaining and managing open space, but also innovative forms or multiple uses of open space.

It is important to ask ourselves which agricultural systems best fit with the advantages and potential of a specific area, which role the farmer can adopt and how best to support farmers. The interdependence of urban and rural areas, dialogue between the different actors, and monitoring of the quality of life in rural areas are important strategic challenges.

New actors transform the landscape

The influence of new actors - non-farmers - creates social changes in rural areas. These new actors look at the rural areas in a different way and they have different expectations. Moreover, other people get responsibility for making decisions about land use, which creates new power relations.

These new actors and their activities transform the landscape. Fertile grounds and healthy soils are now occupied by a range of activities. Village centers expand, roads are constructed and surfaces are sealed. Urban functions are also finding their way into the rural areas: housing, industry, infrastructure, port expansion, small-scale economical activities, and so on.

Resilience of rural areas

The extent of the impact of such changes can also be determined by the resilience of the rural areas: the capacity of an agricultural area to adapt to changing conditions so the living standard is still maintained. This concerns both the inherent economic, ecological, and socio-cultural aspects of a specific rural area.

Several research tracks are used at ILVO to look for ways to fully use the rural areas as a resource and how to use their location within an urbanized area as an opportunity. Research into so-called ‘green’ and ‘blue’ services also fits into this framework.

Contact an expert

Photo of Elke Rogge

Elke Rogge

Scientific director of Social Sciences department


See also