PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2023, Vol. 42 ›› Issue (4): 796-808.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2023.04.014

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Transformation and development of small towns in developed countries from the perspective of rescaling

HU Xiaoliang1(), ZHANG Xiaolin1,2,*(), LI Hongbo1,2, LI Tingyun1   

  1. 1. School of Geography, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210023, China
    2. Jiangsu Center for Collaborative Innovation in Geographical Information Resource Development and Application, Nanjing 210023, China
  • Received:2022-09-03 Revised:2023-01-09 Online:2023-04-28 Published:2023-04-27
  • Contact: ZHANG Xiaolin;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(42071224);National Social Science Foundation of China(21FSHB014);Humanities and Social Sciences Financed by Ministry of Education(20YJCZH069);Scholarship from China Scholarship Council(202106860029);Postgraduate Research & Practice Innovation Program of Jiangsu Province(KYCX21_1283)


Small towns occupy a vital position in the urban and rural settlement system and are one of the main settlement types of humankind. Since the middle of the twentieth century, small towns in Western developed countries have gradually started transitional development. Their overall decline and differentiated development have become a universal phenomenon worldwide. With the increasing interaction between urban and rural areas and global mobility, small towns are increasingly influenced by forces at the regional, national, and global scales. Therefore, this study systematically examined the relevant studies on the transformation and development of small towns in developed countries and summarized the processes and patterns of their transformation and development based on the perspective of multi-scalar characteristic and rescaling from the four dimensions of economy, society, culture, and policy, with the hope to provide a reasonable explanation for the transformation and development of small towns in developed countries. This study holds that small towns have a multi-scalar characteristic and can be embodied by ladder scale, nested scale, and network scale metaphors. The transformation and development of small towns contain the process of scale production and reproduction and can be further divided into four dimensions of economy, society, culture, and policy. Under the background of globalization and urbanization, the original core-periphery structure of small towns is undergoing a trans-scale and networked scale restructuring process. Some small towns tend to decline in this process, while others can become nodes in the global network scale, achieve a development transition in the ladder scale, and expand the hinterland in a nested scale. Finally, this article argued that it is necessary to pay attention to the differences in different contexts when we examine the transformation and development of small towns in China based on the rescaling theory. There is still a considerable gap in the research on the pluralistic differentiation and transformation and development of small towns in China, which urgently needs to be supplemented by theoretical research of urban and rural geography to provide theoretical support for the planning and construction of small towns in China.

Key words: small towns, transformation and development, scale, rescaling, developed countries