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- Author: Jens Kaae Fisker x
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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.
Revisiting the work of Henri Lefebvre, this chapter reconnects his early rural sociology with his late rhythmanalysis by applying his ‘method of residues’ to a study into the quality of everyday life in the Danish countryside. According to Lefebvre, the rural becomes an object of study when it poses practical problems to the urban elite, which is precisely what has happened with the rural–urban happiness paradox. Having heralded the coming of a new gilded age of the city, urban triumphalism is hard pressed to explain why the numbers do not add up; why do rural dwellers insist that they are doing fine? What qualitative difference does the rural make?
The chapter seeks answers by analysing 289 photos and 78 photo collages submitted by rural dwellers in response to the simple question: what is quality of life in the countryside? This question was subsequently discussed in interviews conducted in the homes of informants. Three key findings emerged: by growing their own food rural dwellers hold on to, or reinvent, a peasant lifestyle; rural dwellers ‘let go’ of control by only concerning themselves with what is within reach; and communal rural life is filled with unavoidable encounters that are cherished rather than wished away. Moreover, a thread that runs throughout these themes is that natural and social phenomena alike are accentuated; rural life is more alive. These findings lead to a discussion about Rosa’s conceptualisation of resonance as an alternative to social acceleration and the rhythm of the rural quality of life.
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 purpose of the concluding chapter is to summarise key findings from every chapter in the book, to draw conclusions and implications on the main themes, and to identify directions for future research. Two kinds of themes are covered in the chapter: the four organising themes that provided the structure for the book, and three cross-cutting themes that emerged in the relation between the parts. The latter included spatial justice, meeting places, and rural sociality. These are reflected upon in the opening of the chapter, before the following subsections go into the four organising themes and the individual chapters. We round off by reflecting on the learning points that have emerged and the implications that this should have for the field going forward. In this context, we also mention the topics that the book has, for various reasons, not covered, but which should nevertheless be key themes for future work.
The 2020 World Happiness Report suggests that rural residents in Northern and Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand are generally happier than their urban counterparts. Similar findings have been reported in country-level studies and broader regional research, especially in Europe. Such findings go against conventional wisdom in the field and represent something of a conundrum to researchers and policymakers alike: the rural–urban happiness paradox. Is quality of life really better in the countryside? How and under which circumstances is this the case? Did influential writers like Edward Glaeser get it all wrong when suggesting that the city had now triumphed? What can we learn from digging deeper in the rural–urban happiness paradox and which critical questions does this leave us with for the future? What might policymakers, planners, architects and other influential actors learn from such an exercise? The purpose of the proposed book is to delve deeper into these matters by asking what quality of life in rural areas is actually all about. Since 2018 a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from four research environments at three Danish universities has been carrying out an ambitious research project to do just that. In this edited volume their findings are presented alongside chapters written by specially commissioned international authors from across Europe, North America, Asia and Africa.
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.