What have we learned about rural quality of life and how do we proceed?
Pia Heike Johansen
Evald Bundgård Iversen
Jens Kaae Fisker
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.
This chapter explores the contribution of affordable housing access to quality of life in rural England. Quality of life is unpacked into core components: stability in home-life (and its contribution to physical and mental well-being), the affordance of social life (ensuring connectivity to networks and opportunity), support for work life (providing the stability needed to settle down, find work, be secure and plan ahead), and access to community life (including opportunities for participation in political life). The dissection of these components leads to an examination of tenure and perceptions of the rights and restrictions associated with home ownership, as the ‘most rewarding form of house tenure’. More broadly, the chapter examines the significance of personal housing security and concludes that affordable housing, irrespective of tenure, is a net contributor to well-being – both for individuals and rural communities. Without it, those communities lose vitality, become exclusive, and lose much of their capacity to respond to the challenges that rural areas will face in the future.
Tackling poverty and inequality in the rural areas of South Africa requires a broad range of approaches, of which the development of child-friendly places should be considered an essential component. Due to resource constraints, central government’s approach towards rural development is generally only considered in terms of economic initiatives, which often result in short-term, unsustainable projects. However, placing children at the centre of sustainable community development through investment in early childhood development (ECD) centres as child-friendly spaces, as well as places where sustainable development initiatives in the community could emerge, provides a viable approach towards economic, demographic, social and environmental development. This chapter endeavours to advocate sustainable planning interventions that specifically incorporate a focus on children’s needs. In doing so, a community-integrated approach where the development of child-friendly spaces is considered a priority is evidenced to be an effective approach in sustainable rural development. The specific case study of the development of an ECD centre in Griekwastad, located in a rural area of the Northern Cape province of South Africa, provides a practical example of this approach. The research highlights the unique challenges, opportunities, and perceptions of creating child-friendly spaces in African rural spaces where communities do not necessarily have the support of state, but strive to improve the development of natural, safe spaces where education, cognitive development and independent mobility of children can be enhanced.
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.
The chapter investigates differences in subjective well-being between urban and rural areas in Denmark. The analyses are undertaken on survey data from thirty-eight municipalities merged with individual-level panel register data. The main hypothesis is that in a small universal welfare state such as Denmark, there will be only minor differences in subjective well-being between urban and rural areas. If any overall significant difference exists, the expectation is that, in line with other results from empirical analyses in Western countries, subjective well-being will be higher in rural areas. This hypothesis is supported by the data. Multilevel regression analyses show only minor differences. However, for nearly all aspects of subjective well-being, the differences are statistically significant and with rural areas in the lead. Much of the higher overall level of subjective well-being in rural areas was explained by a lower level of experienced stress and a higher level of feeling meaning in life in these areas on average.
There is much demand for the greening of urban areas and one of the drivers of this demand is the biophilia theory which holds that we feel better in green environments. The question is, therefore, does urban greenery really add to happiness? If so, how much? If so, does the effect differ across people and situations? In this chapter we summarise the available research findings on the relation between happiness and urban green, considering both outdoor and indoor green. We draw on the Word Database of Happiness, in which we found thirty-eight research findings on the relationship between happiness and urban green, reported in thirteen publications. These findings are presented in two tabular schemes with links to online detail. Urban green – both outdoor and indoor – tends to go together with greater happiness. The size of the effect is small. Fear of crime reduces the effect of outdoor green on happiness.
Beyond the idyll in life within the gentrified countryside
Gentrification and well-being have emerged as major research foci, although have rarely been examined in relation to each other. Furthermore, in the few studies exploring gentrification and well-being, there has generally been little theoretical discussion of the latter, despite there being a growing range of conceptualisations of well-being. This chapter seeks to address these omissions, exploring how six different conceptual perspectives on well-being might connect to studies of gentrification in both urban and, more particularly, rural contexts. Economic, social, epidemiological/health, psychological, cultural and more-than-representational perspectives are discussed, with attention drawn to their intersection with gentrification studies making use of concepts of displacement, neighbourhood, psychological and health effects, social networks, therapeutic and scary places, affect and intra-action, as well as indices of well-being. The paper then explores well-being and rural gentrification through a study of three 'string-figures' drawn from a study of nine English villages. The first of these focuses on the claims of idyllic rural living, with attention being paid to more-than-representational arguments concerning instabilities in feelings of well-being. The second makes connections between changing feelings of well-being associated with conceptions of living within a village and changing participation of networks of neighbourhood sociability. A third explores accounts of the formation, improvement and loss of atmospheres that contribute to senses of well-being.
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.