The following text is base on New Bridges Conceptual Paper authored by Nordregion

Quality of life

Quality of life is a broad concept relating in general to the overall level of wellbeing in society. It does not refer solely to the material resources available to individuals or households, but it focuses on enabling people to achieve their goals and choose lifestyle ideal for them.

Quality of life can be seen as a ‘container concept’ interconnecting many different dimension of life such as social, physical and cultural aspects. A broader concept of quality of life acknowledges individuals need to belong in different places and social groups, as well as to differentiate one self by pursuing aims and making decisions and choices.

The quality of life approach in the NEW BRIDGES project

Improving quality of life is one of the main objectives and concerns of governments, policy makers and individuals. However, due to different understanding and conceptual confusion these objectives have not been sufficiently considered in political decision-making nor planning process. Thus the NEW BRIDGES project is seeking to reach agreement or shared view on what assets quality of life may include when measuring and outlining its specific context at the city-region level. The project also enhances the ability of policy makers and planners to set a comprehensive strategy for the improvement and progress of quality of life in urban-rural management.

While governments, policy makers and planners consider the concept of quality of life broader to societal and policy issues individuals’ perceptions are directly related to everyday physical and social environments. An important aspect of the NEW BRIDGES project is to consider such different understandings of the quality of life concept while discerning potential intersections.

There are three selected key elements of quality of life within The NEW BRIDGES project: residential preferences, mobility and accessibility and provision of services. Those three elements are not separate from each others but rather interlinked and overlapping.

Residential preferences

Images and representations of the ‘urban’ and ‘rural are interlinked and influence each other. It may also be assumed that these images and representations make people act on the basis of prevailing interpretations of reality, which are connected to everyday understandings of urbanity and rurality in the context of individual life experiences. In the other words, such images, representations and subsequently the related individual interpretations are critical for us when exploring residential preferences in larger city-regions with urban and rural structures.

Factors pertaining to individuals residential preferences:

  • Location of the household or employment
  • Mobility and accessibility (see following chapter)
  • Provision of services (see following chapter)
  • Imago of the location
  • Opportunities and restrictions concerning a person’s actions in a location
  • Emotional, social, and socio-economic opportunities and restrictions that location offers
  • Individuals available resources and constrains

Considering people’s motives for relocating and drawing conclusions about the demand for residential areas, one has to be flexible about designating between urban and rural areas. Both types have to be defined in a rather broad way, because academics and planners do not, generally, consider the notion of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ in the same way as the individuals does. The characteristics of desirable rural and urban environments around city-regions are often identified under broader meanings, like quiet, green, safe, space etc. In reality however it is merely a question of semantic and socio-cultural traditions in the one or other country/city-region, if these areas are regarded as rural or (sub)-urban.

Mobility and Accessibility

Question of accessibility and mobility concern the ability of people to access and engage in different opportunities and activities. Quantified factors are not enough for measuring accessibility and value-based judgments of individuals’ accessibility have to be considered as well. The ‘culture of mobility’ is linked to different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, and to which services are demanded, accessed and used. Perceptions of accessibility have to be recognized as a potential driver of how areas function and how people behave in relation to accessibility. Therefore, different ‘cultures of mobility´ need to be explored and characterized as the basis for better planning for accessibility.

The major explanation or prevailing developments in urban-rural dynamics relates to changes in the spatial distribution of employment opportunities. Due to the increasing mobility of workers, lower real cost of transportation and communication technologies there has occurred significant changes in employment patterns between urban and rural areas.

Increasing personal mobility and access to even cheaper forms of transport has seen formerly ‘rural’ areas increasingly infused with urban influences and interests. As such, area can be regarded as ‘rural’ in terms of land use and population density while the people living in it exhibit attachments, perceptions and values which are more ‘urban’ than ‘rural’ in the traditional sense and are dependant on a range of particular social and economic circumstances. One of the key issues in this regard is the mobility of the people. For instance, supermarkets have the potential to anchor other services provided in small towns, strengthening town-hinterlands linkages and weakening wider linkages to larger urban centers. On the other hand, supermarkets may lead to the demise of further independent services in the town itself, with negative knock on –effects for rural development in terms of economic growth and tourism. In addition one need to keep in mind that due to the increasing diversity of lifestyles and consequently consumption patterns daily mobility patterns are becoming more and more complex. This is the most evidently in larger city-regions because of the enormous choice of geographically spread facilities for shopping, recreation and other social activities.

Provision of services

In the urban-rural context, the pattern of service provision is especially relevant in terms of residential location and mobility. Hence this element is highly connected to the other two key elements.

Residential location:

  • The expansion of urban areas into rural settings can substantially improve access to services.
  • Improvements to access need to be determined together with local level actors for ensuring di-varicated demands and requirements of different service consumers and social groups.

Mobility and accessibility:

  • Better transport will increase people’s access to services.
  • Increasing flows of the people may also assist in broadening access to important sources of knowledge.
  • General accessibility to services is critical, but also the quality and even individual capacity to use provided services.
  • Different social groups may have unequal opportunities to access services.

This text is based on New Bridges Conceptual Paper authored by Nordregion