As far as sustainable development is concerned, low density urbanity, because scattered, should not remain irrelevant as urbanization model by using the argument that it would be incompatible with space saving, functions diversity, social groups mix, energy sobriety, biodiversity preservation, agricultural and green ecosystems as well as landscape heritage. Beside and in addition to compact, dense and diversified urban patterns, often included in the word "City", rural patterns of generalized urbanisation exist whose spatial characteristics and local practices still remain largely unknown. Thus, this research is part of the idea of the necessity for the sustainable town and regional planning policy to take into account the scattered urban spaces. The policy must promote not only sustainable cities but also a sustainable region in all of its components.
FRUGAL goes beyond conventional representations linked to rural and peri-urban spaces by taking into account the reality of their regionial dynamism. Sketching alternatives to these spaces' evolution taking into account their high sustainability and adaptability potentials regarding proximity, alternative mobilities and interfaces between built-up spaces and green or agricultural open spaces.
The three main objectives of the research were the following ones:
- elaborate new concepts able to identify and describe the specificities of these spaces, at the crossroads of analyses of morphological dispersion, of population, employment and services distribution, of mobilities and of interfaces between built-up and open spaces;
- to deal with the knowledge production about scattered urban spaces whose characteristics have rarely been updated since the last rural geography works, whereas transformation process of these spaces has accelerated over the last decades.
- develop cross-sectoral methodological approaches to cross approaches coming from different disciplines (architecture, planning, geography, network engineering, ethnology, environment), in order to test original ways of apprehending these spaces.
Following the first methodological knowledge coming from PUCA and PREDIT research in Picardy and Franconia regions, the research has been initially based on the relations between mobilities and morphologies.
By expanding the research field to the French metropolitan territory, 14 squares of 50 kilometers side each have been identified excluding those having the presence of cities with more than 20 000 inhabitants, coastal zones, high mountain or PNR zones in order to ensure a comparability between the squares. Thus defined, these selected areas entail in the same way rural and peri-urban spaces and cover a huge diversity of landscapes and rural substracts («bocage» countryside, openfield, mediterranean landscape, mid-mountain areas).
Interdisciplinarity of the team made possible to get larger investigations on field with people or inhabitants, based on thourough studies at the scale of testing areas(ecological, ethnographical, geographical and archituctual surveys…) Several squares were used as laboratories (Picardy, Limousin, Brittany).
The complete process has explored several issues:
- The morphology of dispersion of built agregates (little city, village, hamlet) and the logical of the last half century development;
- the distribution of the populations, of jobs and services within the built aggregates, which determines the possible accessibility to different resources and the territorial systems organisation;
- home to work mobility practices are stressing the part of the related proximity relations;
- energetic adaptation of the housings and of the small social livings;
- the place of food opportunities and biodiversity within scattered housings;
- finally, local urban planning and economic dynamics specific to these territories.
Several thematic results modify the prevailing representations linked to these low density spaces. They are listed below in seven items:
- First, the dynamic of population density and land occupation is not reducible to the urban sprawl issue or in other terms, what we use to call urban sprawl cannot be summarized to an erratic scattered housing.
- Subsenquently, the shopping facilities and services offer doesn't depend on the large distance. Whereas the dispersion of urbanization is often perceived as geographical distance, a relative proximity to shops appears equally for those who live in a village or a hamlet.
- Fragmentation and interpenetration of land uses doesn't jeopardize the landsape sustainability. In these interfaces between dwelling and nature, a familiar diversity, food crops practices and adaptation forms to the climate reveal coexistence between humans and the natural world.
- The daily mobility, in order to access employment, is very far from being exclusively dependant on the large distances to be covered. On the contrary, it tends to be characterised by proximity for the large majority of inhabitants.
- The companies are not very sensitive to mobility constraints linked to law density and dispersion mainly due to the existence of a good road network and to the loyalty of the labour force because mainly locally hired. However, access to a skilled labour force and to high speed internet network turns out to be crucial.
- Transformation of law density territories are not limited to inherited centrality. Today, the actual space rational at work may be a a new way of approaching these territories.
- Lastly, city and regional planning principles, largely planned from and for urban areas and applied to national territory are unlikely to seize and enhance the innovative local initiatives in mainly rural areas.
At the earliest stages of this research, an expansion of the sustainability issue was obvious. First limited to find alternatives to a car based urban planning, it was rapidly extended to the regional systems of scattered urbanization following notably the first results of works dealing with morphologies of dispersion. This very large and detailed exploration has revealed the very wide diversity of morphology and organisation of the spaces and has, from the start, asked the question of the most pertinent distribution of the population within the regions and the most equitable organisation of the centralities which contribute to its structuring.