How can low density spaces, whether they participate in the rural or the peri-urban (depending on the INSEE categories), contribute in their way to the development of globally more sustainable territories ? The present research proposal postulates that, next to and in addition to the compact, dense and diversified figures of the dense urban, there are "rural figures of a generalized urban state", whose spatial characteristics and mobility practices are still very badly known.
The issue is thus stated in the following way: how can low density spaces participate in the project of the "sustainable city" without denying their morphological specificities ? More precisely, how can the simultaneous approach of loose ways to use the land and of transport means, especially those alternative to the "all-car", enable us to outline leads for a sustainable mobility in low density territories.
An approach in positive for low density spaces
First of all, we have to overcome the "negative" approach of these low density spaces, "counter-relief to the urban", as it was expressed in 2003 by the work group on the "Structuration of the rural space : an approach through population catchment areas" (INSEE, SCEES, IFEN, and DATAR, 2003). In that same perspective, two studies, led by some members of our team within the frame of the PUCA and the PREDIT on a sample of territory between urban poles, have enabled us to draw some conclusions which reinforce the relevance of this approach : relative isotropy of the seedbed of grains and small distances separating them, dense distribution of the services within this seedbed in nearness relations which often remain potential, and represent a potential of accessibility through transport means alternative to the all-car ; but, as an counterpoint, lack of recognition of those alternative mobilities in the development of routes within the grains and from grain to grain, and dissociation of the approaches of the road network and the green and blue grids.
From these first methodological knowledges, we suggest to broaden the field of this approach to the scale of the metropolitan territory and to explore the specific characteristics of these not dense spaces on four levels:
1) on the morphological level of the dispersion of built aggregates (small cities, towns, villages, hamlets), of the layout of the transport networks that serve them and of the network of the green and blue grids which are very specific to these territories ;
2) on the socio-demographical level of the distribution of populations, jobs and services within this seedbed of built aggregates and which enables to determine the granulometry of the ground occupation and the potential accessibility to various resources ;
3) on the level of the effective mobility practices which will be pieced together from statistical works and interviews. In particular, we will bring out the distances travelled and the part of nearness relations which can arise from them ;
4) lastly, on the level of local policies for the development of these not dense spaces at the various scales of governance and planning (region, county, intercommunalities,...) and of the economic dynamics which are specific to these territories.
From then on, urban, geographical and social organization, and mobility practices, are compared so as to bring out the territorial systems on the levels of distances and polarities present in the low density and to determine their capacity to contribute to the development of globally more sustainable territories on the level of alternative mobilities to the all-car.
This exploration will rely on the analysis of fifteen "samples" chosen in the French regions (fifty-kilometre sided "squares"). These "regional squares" located in France, will cover the diversity of landscapes and rural heritage (hedged farmland, openfield, Mediterranean area, highland).
The terms of the equation of a sustainable mobility in rural environment
The aim of the present research is to offer a renewed reading of the potentialities of these not dense spaces, today considered as "dead angles", lost for sustainable territories, and whose real current demographic dynamism is even considered as harmful from the point of view of sustainable development.
Thus, based on the results of the comparison of the nearness and mobility territorial systems observed within these regional samples, the proposed research aims at specifying the terms of the equation of a sustainable mobility in rural environment. It aims at giving analysis and development decision support tools, built from the territorial variants which have appeared as crucial in the mobility practises (dispersion of human settlements, distribution of services, configuration of road, transport and ecological networks,...). They shall enable to evaluate the potential redevelopment of these living spaces on the system of sustainability.
Direction : Francis Beaucire, Antoine Brès, Xavier Desjardins, Béatrice Mariolle