Revisiting the role of farms and farmers in an urbanizing society – peri-urban areas in transition

Anna Verhoeve, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research,

Elke Rogge, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research,

Søren Bech Pilgaard Kristensen, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen,

Anne Gravsholt Busck, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen,

Søren Præstholm, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, 


Peri-urban areas are dynamic landscapes where economic and societal interests are concentrated and frequently collide. Agriculture is increasingly under pressure in these areas as new activities and functions develop and urban practices and lifestyles encroach upon traditional agriculture. This symposium explores new roles of farms and farmers in peri-urban landscapes. This includes the relationship between drivers, actors and functions, describing challenges and opportunities for different types of peri-urban settings.


The future of farms and farmers is changing and uncertain. For centuries, rural areas were essentially shaped by societies and economies based on local resources. Long lasting regimes of interaction between the local natural conditions and farming activities gave the land specific morphological characteristics. Over the past 40 years, various economic, technological and political developments have led to structural change within European agriculture. These structural changes create a number of challenges as well as possibilities. Agricultural practices are increasingly conflicting with changing societal expectations such as the conservation of the landscape assets. Thereby, modern farmers are challenged by demands for more environmentally friendly farming practices and by new economic activities. In peri-urban areas, these trends have strongly been intertwined with urban practices and lifestyles encroaching upon traditional agriculture, giving room for a high number of hobby farmers and a variety of new economic activities – some having a clear relation with either the landscape or farm buildings and others without direct physical impacts (recreation, office, institution).

Within this context, numerous societal and scientific challenges are embedded. In this symposium, we explore physical and socio-economic changes in peri-urban areas in light of a changing farming context.

  • The role of food production in peri-urban landscapes. What is the role of traditional agricultural production and new modes of food production and food alliances between urban and rural partners in a dynamic and competitive environment?
  • Farming a way into the (conservation of the) future landscape (farmland preservation strategies)
  • Approaches to deal with farm buildings which lose their original function and become redundant for the agricultural sector
  • Are we witnessing a diversification of agriculture or greening of urban activities?

The symposium consists of two sessions:

A) New relations between peri-urban and urban areas concerning food production
B) New roles for farms, farmers and farm-owners in peri-urban areas.

We intend to make the symposium as engaging and participative as possible and we will involve the participants in the discussion of the symposium topics. Each session will therefore begin with a brief outline of the main topic to encourage symposia participants to reflect on their own experience with peri-urban issues. At the end of each session, time will be devoted to a discussion of key issues raised by the presentations. During these discussions, participants will have the possibility to contribute with their own experiences from different national and local contexts.

Guiding themes for the discussion at the end of each session are:

  • Looking for differences and similarities/generalizations in contexts between the cases, including functions, structures, drivers, regulations and actors in peri-urban landscapes.
  • Definition of peri-urban. Peri-urban areas differ widely between countries. We ask you to reflect on how definitions and understandings of peri-urban landscapes vary and how this influences our understanding of drivers, challenges and planning needs.

In addition, for each session, further questions are:

A) New relations between peri-urban and urban areas concerning food production

  • What are the main threats/challenges to maintaining food production in peri-urban landscapes?
  • Is food production compatible with other interests in the peri-urban landscape (recreation, non-agricultural activities, housing development)?
  • How local is local? There is an increasing demand and interest in local food production. What are the geographical implications of this interest and what role might local food strategies play?
  • How can new concepts such as food parks, food hubs and food sheds support local food supply?

B) New roles for farms, farmers and farm-owners in peri-urban areas.

  • Who are the entrepreneurs engaging in non-agricultural activities and what is the relationship between actors and different members of local communities
  • What is the link between changing functions and changing structures (of landscapes and buildings)? Does it represent hidden or visible urbanization?
  • Do new functions support or threaten peri-urban landscapes? Is this inevitable, desirable or should it be prevented? If so, how?

What can participants expect to learn?

The symposium targets researchers, planners, decision makers and other stakeholders involved in landscape management. They will learn about the state and current challenges facing peri-urban landscapes in Europe. In particular, it is hoped that the mix of case studies and European scale perspectives will provide inspiration for the future role of agriculture in local peri-urban landscapes and the balance with non-agricultural activities and functions.


The symposium will play an important networking function, which will strengthen collaboration between researchers and assist other stakeholders involved in landscape management. Pending on the interest a special issue publication could be a further output.