INSEE’s definition of peri-urbain
Eric Charmes, October 2015
Classifying, naming and delimitating are integral to public action. Defining suburban spaces supposes to delimitate what is urban and rural according to landscape and morphological criteria, but also implies to take into account spatial functions and territorial, economic and demographic dynamics that create flows and interactions between urban and rural spaces, between hamlets and business areas. This chapter analyses the concepts and categories used by the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) to define suburban spaces. Through this case, the author explains the difficulties and the limits of creating stable categories to classify dynamic processes. This accounts why the definition of suburban areas varies from one context to another. The statistical categories (criteria and thresholds) used to define them reflect both sub-urbanisation processes and how they are addressed. This point is illustrated through the case of the exurbs concept used in the United States.