Rural-urban interdependencies : The role of cities in rural growth

Abstract: A massive population growth in cities is currently being witnessed in most countries around the world. As urban populations grow, cities eventually expand geographically into what was considered countryside and nowadays distinguishing between what is city and what is countryside is getting increasingly difficult. In many Western countries, it is being observed that areas near cities seem to capitalize from urban proximity by experiencing strong growth in population and employment. By contrast, remotely located areas appear to be in fast decline, observed not least in the ongoing trend of rural depopulation. In the European context, and more specifically in Sweden, research is relatively scarce on these issues. The aim of this thesis is to examine rural–urban interdependencies and the role of cities in rural growth. Over the last decades, having spatial linkages with cities appears to have increased in importance for rural areas. Much can be learned from studying how interdependencies with nearby cities influence rural growth. Increased knowledge on the topic may be useful, not least in formulating policies aiming at, for example, increasing rural employment and counteracting rural depopulation. The findings in the thesis strongly suggest that interdependencies with nearby urban centers are not necessarily positive. In fact, it is shown that proximity to urban centers of any size is detrimental to local employment growth and entrepreneurship in rural Sweden. Rewards from urban proximity are only visible from interdependencies with the largest urban centers. This suggests that there is a threshold of urban (population) size that needs to be reached for positive agglomeration spillovers to outweigh adverse effects following from urban proximity, for example from urban competition for local jobs, consumers and rural resources in general. Importantly, though, there is a significant heterogeneity in relationships across space. Implicitly, this means that a change that would be positive in one place may be very negative in another.A strong positive association is also observed between rural-to-urban commuting and rural employment growth. Therefore, it is concluded that increasing rural-to-urban commuting could be a way to achieve growth in the countryside. Also, stimulating urban employment growth could be a way for rural areas to maintain and perhaps even grow their local population. This follows from the observation that rural residents increasingly are engaging in rural-to-urban commuting and that the common pathway into this type of commuting is from rural residents changing to urban places of work. These are also individuals who are younger and better educated than their rural neighbors and contribute more than average rural workers to the local economy, by enhancing tax incomes or strengthening local purchasing power.