Understanding rural system with a social-ecological framework: Evaluating sustainability of rural evolution in Jiangsu province, South China

 Understanding rural system with a social-ecological framework: Evaluating sustainability of rural evolution in Jiangsu province, South China
Yuzhu Zang      Yuanyuan Yang       Yansui Liu
        Rural evolution is a multifaceted combination of social, economic and ecological changes. Existing research about rural evolution focused on the socioeconomic transformation but paid inadequate attention to the ecological aspects and the links to external settings. In this research, we structured the cognition of rural evolution with a social-ecological framework, evaluated the sustainability of rural evolution with multisource data, and analyzed its external driving forces. Taking Jiangsu Province as a case study, we found that, (1) Rural evolution showed spatial heterogeneity in Jiangsu Province. From 2000 to 2015, rural evolution in South Jiangsu demonstrated a sustainable trend, while the rural system in North and Central Jiangsu was on the decline. (2) Population, social outcomes and ecological environment were predominant internal variables that determined the trend of rural evolution. With developed economy, good human well beings and large immigration, South Jiangsu surpassed North and Central Jiangsu in terms of rural sustainability. Although North and Central Jiangsu got higher scores on ecological environment, it was not sufficient to offset the negative effects of population loss and economic depression on rural sustainability. (3) Both the socioeconomic and ecological settings at larger scale had effects on rural evolution. Flat terrain, mild climate, advantageous location, good socioeconomic base as well as progress in infrastructures, globalization and marketization provided favorable conditions for rural development. However, over rapid urbanization had negative impacts on rural sustainability due to the urban-biased policy. Based on the results, we proposed to develop small towns and promote bottom-up urbanization to reconcile the conflicts between rural development and urbanization. To pursuit rural sustainability, a problem-driven, solution-oriented approach was also needed to avoid one-size-fits-all implementation of policy design.