Spatial exploration of rural capital contributing to quality of life and urban-to-rural migration decisions: a case study of Hokuto City, Japan

In Sustainability Science
Volume (Issue): 19
Peer-reviewed Article

Globally, urbanization constitutes one of the major underlying drivers of global ecological degradation. Hence, deurbanization, i.e., demographic shift from urban to distant rural areas in a way that increases quality of life (QoL), can be one of the key pathways to address this global challenge. In this study, we investigated the contribution of nature and other types of rural capital to QoL and to people’s decision to migrate from urban to rural areas by studying residents in Hokuto City, a popular urban-to-rural migration destination in Japan. An integrated analysis of the 414 responses to a questionnaire survey and open and commercial geospatial datasets representing natural, built, human, cultural, and financial capital revealed the contributions of specific elements of rural capital to people’s QoL. These included natural capital (farmland, symbolic natural sites, mountain peak view, lower temperature, and tranquility), built capital (highways, railway stations, shops, and restaurants), and financial capital (employment). Many of these are related to the reasons that migrants, including return and one-way migrants, chose their present home location in Hokuto City, indicating their intention to increase QoL by migration. Particularly, one-way migrant homes were located predominantly on higher up mountain slopes with lower temperatures, higher forest cover, near natural parks, and symbolic natural sites, and yet with easier access to railway stations and employment. These results provide a valuable evidence base for rural spatial planning for increased QoL and attracting migrants that considers ecological–social feedbacks, and hence supports deurbanization.