Definition of rural area

The definition of rural has been in dispute for decades (Gilbert, 1982), many different definitions of the rural have been given, each focusing on a different specialized aspect: in turn, statistical, administrative, built-up area, functional regions, agricultural, and population density.

Many commentators define rural areas as those with less than 10-20 per cent of their land areas covered by the built environment. There are three important implications here. These areas will be dominated by agrarian and forest-based economic activities. They will be, to a large extent, repositories of the natural world and wild-life. For the visitor, they will give an impression of space, and a traditional non-urban, non-industrial economy. Their economies will be strongly influenced by the market for farm and forest products. Although the labour force required for farming and forestry has declined rapidly in recent years, rural areas still show a strong bias towards jobs in the farm/ forest sector. Additionally, they usually exhibit low female activity rates outside the home because of the shortage of job opportunities for women in many rural areas (Organisation For Economic Co-Operation and Development [OECD], 1994).

The OECD Rural Development Programme uses a pragmatically based series of indicators: while at local level a population density of 150 persons per square kilometre is the preferred criterion, "at the regional level geographic units are grouped by the share of their population which is rural, into the following three types:

• predominantly rural (> 50 per cent),

• significantly rural (15-50 per cent),

• predominantly urbanized regions (< 15 per cent)" (Organisation For Economic Co­Operation and Development [OECD], 1994).

The frequently quoted definition of rurality based on population density criteria as used by the OECD is a typical example of this type of definition. Besides, an EU classification of rural areas (integrated rural areas, intermediate rural areas and remote rural areas) based upon socio-economic trends, such as population growth, land use change and employment conditions (European Commission, 1988), belongs to the descriptive definitions (Elands & Freerk Wiersumi 2001)

This point is also illustrated when examining the size of settlements classified as rural by a selection of various states, given below: (Table 1)

According to the European Commission 1997., approximately 80% of the territory of the European Union can be called ‘rural’. These rural areas or countrysides. include a great variety of cultures, landscapes, nature and economic activities that shape a palette of rural identities (Huigen et al., 1992; Slee, 2000).


The criterias to define the rural area


Towns of fewer than 5 000 people.


Population clusters of fewer than 1 000 people, excluding certain areas


Places of fewer than 1 000 people, with a population density of fewer than 400 per square kilometre.

England and Wales

No definition — but the Rural Development Commission excludes towns with more than 10 000 inhabitants.


Communities with fewer than 200 households


The separation between total urban areas and rural area are determined 100 settlements.


Settlements with fewer than 10.000 people.


Towns containing an agglomeration of fewer than 2 000 people living in contiguous houses, or with not more than 200 metres between the houses.


Communities with fewer than 200 households


Settlements with fewer than 10.000 people.


The local authority areas less than 100 people pers q km.


Settlements with fewer than 10.000 people.


Settlements with fewer than 10.000 people.


Provincial and district centers outside settlements with fewer than 20.000 people.

Table 1. The criterias to define rural area in different countries (Roberts & Hall 2003; Gulgubuk, 2005, UN Demographic Year-books and Robinson, 1990)

According Agricultural and Rural Development Operational Program [Ardop], (2006) It covers areas of population density of or under 120 persons/km2 or settlements with a population under 10,000 inhabitants. From this array of varying definitions, two clear points stand out. Rural settlements may vary in size, but they are small, and always with a population of fewer than 10 000 inhabitants. They are almost always in areas of relatively low population density (Organisation For Economic Co-Operation and Development [OECD], 1994).

Typically rural areas have low population densities: this is a result of small settlements, widely spaced apart. The natural and/or the farmed/forested environment dominates the built environment.

This point is various definiations common features of rural space are (Ashley and Maxwell 2001):

• Spaces where human settlement and infrastructure occupy only small patches of the landscape, most of which is dominated by fields and pastures, woods and forest, water, mountain and desert

• Places where most people spend most of their working time on farms

• Abundance and relative cheapness of land

• High transaction costs, associated with long distance and poor infrastructure

• Geographical conditions that increase political transaction costs and magnify the possibility of elite capture or urban bias

Rural areas generally suffer high levels of poverty, and are also characterised by lower levels of non-farm economic activity, infrastructural development, and access to essential services. They may also suffer from depopulation of the able-bodied, and lack of political clout.