Academic journal article Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis

Beyond the Fringe: The Role of Recreation in Multi-Functional Urban Fringe Landscapes

Academic journal article Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis

Beyond the Fringe: The Role of Recreation in Multi-Functional Urban Fringe Landscapes

Article excerpt


There are areas of towns and cities that have been relatively neglected by planning processes and by academic study. The nomenclature of these areas is a source of contestation with the terms 'fringe-belt' (Conzen 1960, Whitehand and Morton 2006), 'urban fringe' (Gallent et al. 2004) and 'edgelands' (Shoard 2002, 2003) being employed to describe and allow for the conceptualisation of particular sorts of landscape that share features. Conzen et al. (2013) review this literature and state that "...(r)esearch on fringe belts remained of largely academic interest until the late 1990s, at which time the connection between the research idea and the practice of planning began to receive increasing attention" (Conzen et al. 2013: 36). The academic and policy reasons behind these differences in terminology are explored in the paper later but Conzen et al. (2013: 36) succinctly capture the reason for engaging in this process of theorising: "(t)he practical significance of the fringe-belt idea lies in its potential to clarify and reinforce the rational and cultural basis for understanding the urban landscape as the meaningful outcome of general and place -specific historico-geographical development" (Conzen et al. 2013: 36). This paper uses the 'fringe-belt' idea to understand and examine the specific geographic developments in the city of Plymouth in the United Kingdom as a case study and argues that the role of recreation requires greater attention in the academic and planning literature.

When Natural England produced its review of the work of the Countryside in and Around Cities (CIAT) initiative in 2006 the term Green Infrastructure (GI) was promoted. One of the significant features of Green Infrastructure is the scope for recreation, it is claimed. This paper explores the characteristic features of this infrastructure as well as the reasons why local government has been obliged both to audit this infrastructure and to play an active role in its development. Before doing this, it is necessary to outline some of the key features of the recent transformation of urban landscapes generally and the claims made for the need for the planning and design of areas that have, to some extent, not been subjected to planning processes in the past.

According to Madanipour (2006) there has been a growing appreciation from central government in Britain that urban design deals, not just with appearances, but with the organization of urban space and the processes that take place within those spaces. Thus, design addresses "the way places work as well as how they look" (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 2005: 23, quoted in Madanipour 2006: 178). This growing appreciation has led to new approaches in urban design and planning that are starting to transform spaces that were previously neglected by urban planning, approaches that may lead to the formalisation of spaces and have particular consequences for recreation.

The Transformation of Urban Landscape and Green Spaces

To understand the emerging significance of the 'fringe-belt' or 'urban fringe' in the early 21st century it is important to recognise some of the major features of the transformation of cities generally. The balance of the population at a global level has shifted towards cities as the majority of the world's population now live in them and, although the population of Britain is relatively stable, there has been a shift towards urban living alongside a general ageing of the population. Conzen et al. (2013: 36) state that "(u)rban landscapes are changing at an unprecedented pace in most parts of the world" and argue the case for more case studies in urban morphology to enhance understanding of these dynamic landscapes. The response of local governments to the economic and social changes of the cities that they represent has taken place in a period of general withdrawal of direct state involvement. During a period of neo-liberalism in the 1980s and 1990s, the response of local governments in Britain generally to the structural changes to the economic base of Britain was muted, one manifestation of which was the lack of planning by those whose roles include the regulation of cities:

"Planning and design at the urban scale seemed to be entirely within the remit of the government. …

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