This neologism refers to the diffuse urbanization that can be observed in rural areas neighboring major urban areas. It has gradually replaced synonymous or nearly synonymous concepts: “urban exodus,” “exurbanization,” “counter-urbanization,” or “re-urbanization.” It is not so much a reaction against cities as a new phase of urbanization.
Beginning in the United States and Canada in the 1950s, peri-urbanization developed in Great Britain and Sweden in the 1960s and France and Italy in the 1970s. Since then, it has not ceased to develop, though it slowed down somewhat in the early 1980s. In Europe, it is primarily characterized by housing development in the large areas surrounding cities. It assumes many forms: the renovation or rehabilitation of old village habitats; the construction of new homes along village outskirts, and the construction of individual homes or lots of individual houses outside of villages (“new villages”). The rural character of these areas is still in evidence, as most of the natural and agricultural area persists, yet in fact it has been profoundly transformed. Farmers are no longer but a fraction of the population, which consists primarily of middle-class inhabitants from the city (executives, engineers, office workers). Inhabitants of peri-urban areas live in the countryside but travel to nearby cities to work, shop, entertain themselves, and use available services.
The extension of peri-urban zones is a [[definitions:u:urban_function|function]] of the size and dynamism of the urban organism: it typically extends 5-10 km outside of a small city, 10-15 km outside a middle-sized city, and 20-40 km outside a large city. For a very large city, this area can extend further still: in the case of Paris, for instance, peri-urbanization can be observed 50-100 km from the city, depending on the direction. It extends even further where rapid transit routes exist. It is all the more evident when the surrounding countryside is attractive.
Peri-urbanization can also be seen, in similar forms, in tourist areas, particularly along the most beautiful coastlines and in the most scenic mountains.
The development of peri-urbanization can be explained by a conjunction of factors. The high cost of real estate in urban areas, even in suburbs, has led many households, especially those with children that want a spacious home with a garden, to move to peri-urban areas. The phenomenon was made possible by the spread of individually owned vehicles in the wake of rising living standards in the fifties and sixties. A peri-urban home is undoubtedly less expensive, but it often entails higher transportation costs. In two salary households, which are frequently common, it requires purchasing a second car.
The search for more affordable homes goes hand in hand with the desire, which appeared in the late sixties, for a return to a life that is simpler and closer to nature. It resulted notably in palpable enthusiasm for the individual house. The development of peri-urban habitats poses a certain number of problems relating to urban development and territorial organization. This is particularly evident in the peri-urbanization of tourist areas.