Research Project

The Metropolitan Corridor Revisited

Research Project

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp, Sweden

The Metropolitan Corridor Revisited

The conference is organised within the project The Metropolitan Corridor Revisited: tracing rural/urban hybrids as a base for sustainable development, funded by Formas, The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning.

Urban sprawl is perceived as an escalating problem in Europe of today, and the search for solutions on how to curb sprawl is regarded as a key to sustainable development. Since the mid 1990s, transit-oriented development (TOD) has been brought forward as a planning strategy in order to come to terms with car dependency, sprawling cities and the need for farmland preservation. With its simultaneous focus on transport corridors and town-planning the debate on TOD is promising as it could facilitate studies beyond the increasingly polarized and polemic discourse on urban sprawl, densification and new urbanism. However, preliminary studies of Swedish planning policies on local and regional levels as well as a review of international literature suggests that current TOD strategies are mainly guided by reductive analysis of transportation accessibility and available land in combination with a clearly pronounced urban ideal illustrated (in contemporary Swedish policy documents) with images of bustling cities, cafés and street life. Small towns and peri-urban railway settlements in Sweden is a far cry from these visions. Furthermore, international as well as Swedish research proves that urban sprawl is to a large extent driven by life-style preferences related to landscape amenities and the wish to live in the countryside; if new settlements do not meet these ideals, and if the planners don’t deal with the complex and contested role of landscape, their policies are not likely to confront some of the driving forces of urban sprawl. A worst case scenario is that the new TODs in peri-urban locations neither meet the expected qualities of city nor country; this could foster a suburban development only driven by push mechanisms, thus contributing to gentrification and a socially unstable society.

Initial studies also suggest that the unique character and history of the railway settlements (Stationssamhället in Swedish) is largely dismissed in the debate. With a history characterized by intricate interplay between country and city (so complex and convoluted that the divide as such could be questioned), stories of the railway village as a relational or hybrid phenomena could nurture another debate and another spatial planning, in which rural and urban qualities are brought forward in tandem.

The Metropolitan Corridor Revisited examines the railway settlement as a model for urban development, with specific focus on the regional strategy for Scania (southernmost Sweden) and its consequences for landscape amenities, cultural heritage and green-structure development. The project aims to:

  1. trace the relational rural/urban character of the railway settlements and their landscape amenities in order to provide a better understanding of the character of these settlements. Landscape research, bridging studies everyday practice, representation and materialization of land and life, provide a framework for the tracing of the history of the railway corridor and the shadows of past planning (Qviström 2010).
  1. in collaboration with local and regional stakeholders explore the usefulness of such a tracing within spatial planning.

The title of the project refers to John Stilgoe’s Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene (1983). The book provides a rich illustration of a landscape woven together by railway infrastructure in the late 19th century, arguing that the corridor is a hybrid phenomena beyond city, suburb and country. The railway was the hub of industries, with lines ending up in the heart of industrial buildings, but the suburbs were equally dependent on railways, as were a number of other communication networks such as telegraph lines and telephone lines, the postal service and the distribution of newspapers. Parks and allotment gardens, demonstrating the moral geography of the network, were embedded in the corridor. Railway companies engaged in architecture, city planning and the very way of conceptualising (and realising) certain time-spaces or mobilities, and came to influence art, literature and the perception of landscape. In short, Stilgoe describes a seamless web of heterogeneous actors, or an actor-network (Latour 2005, Qviström 2012). Following Piere et al’s (2011) call for empirical research of the relational place-making of networks, the project aims to trace the historical as well as contemporary hybrid character and values of a Metropolitan corridor.

The backbone of the Metropolitan corridor is the time-spatial rhythms of the time-table and the “urban metabolism” illustrated by its cargo (cf. Heynen et al 2006). Tracing the relational time-space of this cargo and its actors provides knowledge of the places and activities which constitutes the corridor (Cronon 1992). Using archival studies of the railway company, related companies and the municipal archives, a comparative study of the contemporary and historical geography of the network will be illustrated. A previous dissemination of a Metropolitan corridor in ruin (Qviström 2012) illustrates how archival studies, discourse analysis of policy documents, in combination with field studies can provide a rich understanding of such a relational place. In addition, the detailed studies of the Metropolitan corridor as a hybrid landscape, and historic examples of strategic countryside urbanization via railway planning, has been provided by De Block (2013).

The final part of the project aims to implement the results, primarily through spatial and conceptual reinterpretations within planning and policy making. Yokohari & Bolthouse (2011) illustrate how the “reinvention” of concepts within planning has nurtured new land-uses. Historical studies, concepts and representations are crucial for such reinventions. With the reinvention of the concepts satoyama and desakota, concrete examples for “rurban” planning has been offered, which has facilitated multifunctional land-use and simultaneously the preservation of cultural heritage. Relational landscape research on the reinterpretation of these concepts in the (westernized) Japanese planning will be of crucial importance in the reinterpretation and planning discussion on Stationssamhället and the Metropolitan corridor.

The project is run by the Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management, SLU (Mattias Qviström, principal investigator), in collaboration with the Department of Human Geography, Lund University (Tomas Germundsson). International research network: Valentine Cadieux (Univ. of Minnesota), Vera Vicenzotti (Univ. of Newcastle/SLU), Makoto Yokohari and Jay Bolthouse (Univ. of Tokyo), Greet de Block and Bruno de Meulder (Univ. of Leuven, Belgium).




  • De Block, G. 2013, in press. ”Planning Rural-Urban Landscapes: Railways and Countryside Urbanisation in South-West Flanders, Belgium (1830 – 1930”, Landscape Research
  • Cronon, W. 1991. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. W W Norton & Company
  • Heynen, N., Kaika, M, Swyngedouw, E (Eds). 2006. In the nature of cities: urban political ecology and the politics of urban metabolism. Routledge
  • Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford University Press
  • Murdoch, J. 2006. “Networking rurality: emergent complexity in the countryside”, in: Cloke, P., Marsden, T., Mooney, P H. (Eds) Handbook of rural studies. Sage.
  • Murdoch, J., Lowe, P. 2003. “The preservationist paradox: modernism, environmentalism and the politics of spatial division”, Trans Inst Br Geogr 28: 318 – 332
  • Pierce, J., Martin, D G., Murphy, J T. 2011. “Relational place-making: the networked politics of place”, Trans Inst Br Geogr 36, 54 – 70
  • Qviström, M. 2010. “Shadows of planning: On landscape/planning history and inherited landscape ambiguities at the urban fringe”, Geografiska annaler series B, 92: 219 – 235
  • Qviström, M. 2012. “Network ruins and green-structure development: an attempt to trace relational spaces of a railway ruin”, Landscape research, 37: 257 – 275.
  • Stilgoe, J. 1983. Metropolitan corridor: railroads and the american scene. Yale university press
  • Walker, P., Fortmann, L. 2003. ”Whose landscape? A political ecology of the ’exurban’ Sierra”, Cultural geographies 10: 469 – 491
  • Yokohari, M., Bolthouse, J. 2011. “Planning for the slow lane: the need to restore working greenspaces in maturing contexts”, Landscape and urban planning, 100, 421 – 424.




“No traditional spatial term, not urban, suburban, or rural, not cityscape or landscape, adequately identifies the space that perplexed so many turn-of-the-century observers. Reaching from the very hearts of the great cities across industrial zones, suburbs, small towns, and into mountain wilderness, the metropolitan corridor objectified in its unprecedented arrangement of space and structure a wholly new lifestyle.”

(John Stilgoe, Metropolitan Corridor, 1983, p. 3)

© Mattias Qviström, 2013

Last update: 22 December 2013