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Everyday life in the countryside has undergone profound changes, especially in the global North. Agriculture and forestry have ceased to dominate rural employment and the division between work and leisure has grown ever more substantial. Historically, place attachments and community-based identities among rural people grew out of shared rhythms, the collective shaping of landscapes, and the rituals of sociability associated with these practices. While these intimate connections have waned, actual agricultural practices gradually merged with the early tourism industry in the manufacturing of the pastoral ideal, a powerful imaginary resulting from the first attempts to commodify rural space as an object of consumption. Although rural life has changed in myriad ways, the pastoral ideal lives on along with ideals about an independent rural lifestyle, where rural dwellers are seen as active forces in shaping the landscape, and where community sociability is not a thing of the past. All of this is maintained and reproduced in a variety of versions often marked by hybridity. The framing essay attends to the ways that such hybridities can be seen to problematise quality of life as something that is taken for granted. Instead, it asks the more basic question of what rural quality of life actually is for those who dwell in the countryside today.
The places of rural life have changed dramatically in the past generation. The ongoing transformation of built environments and landscapes is putting a strain on everyday life in many places. At the same time, place-based spatial development, especially through participatory processes of placemaking, is increasingly being viewed as a means not only to achieve attractive and functional built environments but to promote a sense of community, place attachment, social cohesion, and to help stimulate local economies – in short to enhance rural dwellers’ quality of life and well-being. The essay frames the critical examination of interventions in rural built environments in European countries, China and South Africa, with an eye to their role in constructing quality of life. Importantly, this includes the (potential) role of planning and spatial design to enable rural places to flourish and to enhance individual and collective well-being. The framing takes its point of departure in a situated and relational understanding of well-being. People, things and places are assembled in everyday encounters and well-being is conceived of as an effect arising from such complex socio-material assemblages. We have thus tasked authors to critically question the ways in which built interventions and transformation processes instigate new relationships between people, things and places, and how this may contribute to quality of life, while remaining open to the possibility that such interventions might not always be beneficial for quality of life.
Starting from the findings that self-reported quality of life is higher in rural areas than in the city, this framing essay sets the scene for the chapters in Part III, which focus on the role civil society might play for quality of life in rural areas. First, the framing essay shows the different ways of participating in civil society and considers how other studies have discussed how different ways of participation in civil society might influence individuals’ quality of life. Next, the framing essay considers the possible role the density of civil society might play for individuals’ quality of life. Finally, the framing essay gives an overview of the content of the chapters in the section, including the methodological and theoretical basis for the chapters.
This essay presents and discusses a vast amount of the theoretical as well as empirical literature in the field of quality of life in rural vs urban local areas. Special attention is given to research literature with a quantitative approach and to the concept of subjective well-being as the primary dependent variable. In this way, the essay lays the ground for the five chapters in the section. The essay ends up with a short presentation of these chapters.
In this chapter the purpose, rationale and organisation of the book are explained, along with an introduction to the key questions which are at stake. It begins by introducing the rural–urban happiness paradox as the impetus for assembling the volume, focusing on how the spatial differentiation between urban and rural places in measurements of well-being in the global North has puzzled researchers. From this point of departure, the chapter goes on to question the viability of retaining a binary view, where places and the people who inhabit them are designated either as urban or as rural. Instead, a different road forward is offered, wherein the messy realities of contemporary everyday life are liberated from such simplistic distinction in favour of an approach that retains the complexities that matter for human well-being. Following a brief account of more than a century of research on quality of life, the remainder of the chapter introduces the organisation of the volume by posing the key questions that animate each part. The chapter ends by returning to the key concern of the book: the (im)possibility of attaining rural well-being for all and the many difficult questions that this entails.
Greater access to natural environments and opportunities for contact with nature afforded by rural living have the potential to drive differences in quality of life between rural and urban areas. Yet, while there is an established body of evidence on the well-being benefits of access to natural environments, much of the literature focuses on urban areas, with specific exploration of the rural context lacking. This chapter addresses this gap by investigating relationships between outdoor recreation participation and rural well-being, drawing on empirical data from Scotland. We present findings from a mixed-method research programme including qualitative research into nature-based interventions in rural Scotland and quantitative survey data analysis exploring the extent to which outdoor recreation explains variation in well-being across levels of rurality/urbanity, and inequalities in outdoor recreation participation. The findings support a view of rural natural environments as a health resource which, through outdoor recreation, can support the well-being of rural residents. However, there are disparities in engagement in outdoor recreation between demographic groups, indicating that such benefits of rural living are unequally distributed within the population and pointing to the value of targeted nature-based interventions. Furthermore, we observed differences between accessible and remote rural areas, including greater polarisation in outdoor recreation participation in remote areas and wider inequalities in relation to gender and ethnicity. Remote rural areas were, however, associated with frequent outdoor recreation by young people, a less pronounced drop-off in participation among older adults, and an apparent lack of area deprivation effects on outdoor recreation.
During the twentieth century, Sweden strategically developed into a welfare state trying to even up the historical differences of urban and rural life. The result today is one of the richest and top-ranked countries in the world. But today urban lifestyles are given priority, and both the city and the countryside are transformed by an industrial logic. Uneven development is promoted by polarisation between places and landscapes with or without a position to influence their future.
The aim of this chapter is to critically discuss how rural landscapes and built environment historically have changed during the development of Sweden as a welfare state and to explore how planners and architects today can include plural centralities and practices to generate fairer conditions for participation in the spatial production of quality of life in its own right.>br />The chapter outlines the rurban void as a conceptual lens for analysing spatial production between and outside limited urban and rural stereotypes of sustainable development. Influenced by the theoretical work of Lefebvre on the right to spatial production, the chapter describes planning and historical political reforms in Sweden. Moreover, examples of contemporary situations in the rurban void are used to discuss alternatives for improved quality of life as the right to spatial production. The chapter argues that there is, within the rurban void, a critical line between actors with or without a (political) voice and position to influence the living environment and the quality of life in its own right.
The chapter looks at how social and cultural capital are generated through civil society by a study of historical associations on the Outer Hebrides, known as the Comainn Eachdraidh (CE) in 2011–15 and followed up in 2019. This cultural and social capital, involving a sense of local pride, is related to the strong participation in civil society found in these remote places. Digitalisation has helped to further sustain these activities, made them more globally accessible, and produced a new focus of activity for local CEs and their collective representation through the digital platform, Hebridean Connections. However, digitalisation has produced both advantages and threats. The advantages include linking these islands to a wider diaspora and community of interest worldwide and encouraging visitor flow and benefits for the local economy. Threats include the loss of control of information by local associations and the creation of a demand that small groups of older volunteers cannot always fulfil. Furthermore, local authority cutbacks meant that the centralised system developed by Hebridean Connections was not able to manage the volume of demand with a skeletal staff. The chapter illustrates how cultural transmission occurs through technology to link the past with the present and the future. Despite its shortcomings, the CE movement helped to show how local control of digital infrastructures can also help to empower local civil society and thus benefit rural quality of life
This chapter asks how do inhabitants in Danish rural areas assess whether, how and why participation in civil society influences their quality of life. Theoretically, we argue that the importance for civil society’s role in influencing life satisfaction depends on whether the citizens are engaged in social networks which are profound and long lasting. Twenty-eight semi-structured interviews with individuals who were in different ways and to a different extent engaged in civil society in three different rural settings in Denmark form the empirical base of the analysis. In the analysis we show that long-lasting and deep participation in civil society results in higher levels of quality of life. Specifically, we point to three different mechanisms which we illustrate in three themes: Theme 1: Making activities possible for other local citizens, Theme 2: Contributing to civil society is rewarding for the individual, and Theme 3: It is rewarding to be a part of the struggle for overcoming the challenges of living in rural areas. Further, we argue that an age difference exists, as the younger persons, to a greater extent than older persons, participate in civil society to get a rich social life with friends. The older persons to a greater extent highlight the altruistic motives for contributing to civil society. Finally, we argue that with regard to increasing quality of life, ‘collective volunteering’ seems to be of higher importance than ‘reflexive volunteering’ for the interviews in this study.
Rural spatial development policy increasingly aims to improve quality of life and meet broad sustainable development goals. The New Rural Paradigm marked a shift towards supporting place-based, participatory local projects. In Denmark, this coincided with the 2007 structural reform whereby 273 municipalities were merged into 98 while giving municipalities full planning sovereignty over their territory, including the open countryside. Hundreds of place-based, participatory local spatial projects have since been carried out. This chapter examines the potential of such interventions in the built environment to enhance rural quality of life in peripheral areas affected by population loss.
An inventory of projects receiving public or philanthropic funding in the 2010–2016 period was assembled to identify projects that (1) involved built interventions (buildings, open spaces, landscape projects), (2) were carried out to enhance quality of life, (3) were publicly accessible or open to a larger public, and (4) community-driven or participatory. Of 734 such projects that were found, 13 were selected for in-depth study using spatial and functional analysis, document studies, and site visits and interviews with key actors. The chapter finds that quality of life is pursued by (a) creating spaces shared by locals and non-locals alike, (b) reinventing cultural heritage, (c) creating green meeting places, and (d) forging new spatial connections, all with a focus on sustained community well-being. Importantly, the project communities often outlast the projects themselves, sometimes with long-term placemaking effects.