30 Mar

Geographical Review Preview: A Life-Stage Approach for Decomposing Spatiotemporal Population Changes Along an Urban-Rural Gradient: Implications for Regional Planning

By: Mikel Gurrutxaga

What is the main purpose of your study? The main purpose is to study how the residential movements of different birth cohorts at different life stages across urban, suburban and rural areas are relevant for regional planning, because those movements have implications for adequate spatial planning in housing, transportation and services along the urban-rural gradient. We studied the population changes for birth cohorts joining the workforce, at a mature working age and reaching retirement across urban, suburban and rural municipalities of continental Spain in 2002-2017.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? The population changes in urban, suburban and rural municipalities are related to the residential movements of different cohorts of distinct size and at various life cycle stages. The population changes of each birth cohort and life stage are independent of the evolution of the absolute population in each municipality. In order to more precisely understand population changes in the territory and identify how these changes influence spatial planning it is useful to decompose the changes in population according to different generations or birth cohorts. Given the results of this study, the residential decisions of the retiring cohorts of the next decades could notably increase the elderly population volume of certain small municipalities located in suburban and rural areas of Spain.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?In previous studies in other countries one of the main limitations of urban living as perceived by the inhabitants of compact cities is lack of space and overcrowding. It cannot be ruled out that in the future there will be an increase of residential movements from urban municipalities to less densely populated places by working-age cohorts in Spain. Future research should take into consideration whether the Covid-19 pandemic, which has driven social distancing measures, will have an impact on the percentage of the population at different life stages that prefers less populated areas. Furthermore, the rise of teleworking could make rural areas more attractive to future working-age cohorts than in previous generations.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? The absolute population increased in 36% of the municipalities, but at least one of the study cohorts showed an increase in 75% of the municipalities. While the young working age cohort tended to move to growing urban and suburban areas, the retiring cohort tended to move to medium-sized/small suburban and small rural municipalities during the study period. Numerous areas with absolute population decline, often located far from urban centers, are attractive to the retiring cohort. This has implications for adequate spatial planning in housing, transportation and services in rural areas.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? Each generation could respond in different ways to structural (socioeconomic, technological, environmental) changes taking place in society in each territory. Variations in conditions in different locations, together with the preferences and real possibilities of residential choice at each moment, will influence spatial residential behavior of each cohort at each life stage. A key question is whether the recent trends observed in each cohort and life stage is something that we might expect for the future behavior.

How does your research help us think about Geography? The spatiotemporal population changes of different birth cohorts at different life course stages are relevant for spatial planning but are often ignored. The methodological approach used in this article enriches the vision of spatiotemporal population changes across urban, suburban and rural areas. The method used in this article can be applied to other study areas at different spatial and temporal scales. The general trends detected on a national scale in this case study of continental Spain differ in some regions and it is necessary to analyze them on a regional scale to integrate them into spatial planning.

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