Friday, 24 February 2012

Going into the ruf

Before our Relu project "Managing Environmental Change at the Rural-Urban Fringe" began I had never given much thought to the meeting point of town and country. But it really came home to me when I went out to take some photos of countryside for a Relu document one weekend. Living on Tyneside, I didn't want to have to drive too far to take my pictures, so ended up at the borders of North Tyneside and Northumberland: classic rural-urban fringe. "Fringe" seems to be the right word for this rather ragged landscape. If my local "ruf" has a defining characteristic it is probably the number of fields being grazed by horses. This is riding school country, where middle-class urban children come to ride ponies. Is that a function we should value? You might argue that any activity that gets young people away from their computer screens should be encouraged. Others feel it is a waste of land that could be used for growing food. There are also areas of apparent abandonment, with decaying buildings and old mineworkings: the legacy of North East England's more industrial past. Some of this unkempt panorama would probably benefit from development, or so it seems. Affordable housing is certainly needed. But am I missing some subtle habitats used by wildlife? I suspect that the planning decisions are not simple as they appear, and next week I shall probably find this out at the "Managing Environmental Change at the Rural-Urban Fringe" event in Birmingham. I'm particularly looking forward to having an opportunity to play the team's Rufopoly board game. When it was launched at our Relu conference in November I had other things on my mind. But this innovative development has really taken off, with planners keen to use it in discussions on strategy. As in Monopoly, players each have a little plastic object to move around the board. I wonder whether these include a horse?

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