A proposal for revising Chile’s rural definition

There are several important points to take into account when considering alternative definitions delimiting rural areas for Chile.

  • • Local specificities or international comparisons: There are trade-offs to be considered in definitions between those equipped to capture country and local specificities as opposed to facilitating international comparisons.
  • • Economic spaces or political accountability: Definitions based on functional criteria with changing borders can better capture the economic realities of complex flows and interactions, as opposed to those based on administrative criteria. Notwithstanding this fact, definitions based on administrative units present some advantages, both in terms of gathering statistics, as well as for holding elected officials accountable to the electorate in a clearly defined territory.
  • • Defining and differentiating rural areas: Definitions that only consider the characteristics of urban areas and by default define the remaining territory as rural areas as a residual are ill equipped to capture the realities of modern rural economies that are now based on strong interrelations with urban areas, changing commuting patterns and accessibility to external markets. Definitions that differentiate amongst different rural areas also permit better differentiation of different rural realities.
  • • Recognition of mixed spaces: Definitions recognising areas with strong urban and rural interactions have the potential to better build on synergies and complementarities between urban and rural areas.

Taking into account some of these considerations, this section proposes two alternative definitions that could better capture Chile’s rural reality, build on synergies with urban activities and policies targeting urban areas, provide international comparability while capturing country and local specificities, define mixed spaces and differentiate among rural regions. Amongst both alternatives, the first requires the availability of population data at a very fine grid (1 km2) across the country. The second alternative requires less information with building blocks based on population data at the census district level within comunas. The former makes use of more and better information although it is more difficult to compute and currently data at this level are not available for Chile as a whole. Both definitions classify administrative comunas using information contained within the comunas.

First alternative: Build upon the FUA methodology and define remaining municipalities

The first alternative requires the availability of very detailed data, at the level of grid cells per km2 for population and surface area. The methodology is based on the FUA definition and defines rural areas within FUAs and outside their borders. It also introduces a distance travel criteria for differentiating between rural regions close to cities and remote ones. Overall, the alternative defines seven types of regions, amongst which one is urban and the rest (six) rural. Given that data at such a refined level are difficult to obtain, this alternative could be a good medium- to long-term solution for Chile once data at this level are available. The definition is based on the following four steps:

  • • Step 1:
    • - In order to build synergies with urban activities and policies through the newly created national urban policy framework targeting FUAs, the definition would be consistent with the FUA methodology as follows:
    • ? Clusters are defined as in the FUA methodology comprised of groups of contiguous population grid cells made up of individual cells (of 1 km2) containing more than 1 500 inhabitants per km2 and in combination, the contiguous cells host more than 50 000 inhabitants.
  • • Step 2:
  • - Define core and hinterland municipalities (comunas) from the FUA as follows:
    • ? FUA urban core comunas are defined when more than 50% of population in the comuna live in clusters (defined in step 1).
    • ? FUA intermediate comunas are defined when more than 25% but less than 50% of the total population lives in clusters.
    • ? FUA rural comunas are defined when less than 25% of the population lives in clusters.
  • - The FUA defines all of its comunas into one of three types. The remaining comunas outside the FUA catchment areas are defined as follows:
  • • Step 3:
    • - Intermediate clusters are identified by contiguous grid cells (of 1 km2) each with at least 1 000 inhabitants per km2 and in combination, are home to more than 10 000 inhabitants.
    • ? Rural town comunas are defined when more than 50% of the population of comunas live in intermediate clusters.
    • ? The remaining comunas are defined as rural.
  • • Step 4:
  • - Rural town comunas can be sub-classified as rural towns close to FUAs and remote rural towns based on a 60-minute driving distance criterion to urban centres.
  • - Rural comunas are also classified as rural areas close to FUAs and rural remote areas based on a 60-minute driving distance criterion to urban centres.

Table 1.4 summarises the range of categories defining comunas by the proposed definition dividing comunas into seven possible categories.

Table 1.4. Classifying comunas through three stages in the revised definition



  • 1. Urban core
  • 2. FUA intermediate
  • 3. FUA rural
  • 1. FUA urban core
  • 2. FUA intermediate
  • 3. FUA rural


  • 4. Rural town
  • 5. Rural
  • 4. Rural town close to an FUA
  • 5. Remote rural town
  • 6. Rural close to an FUA
  • 7. Remote rural

Figure 1.3. Classifying comunas in the first revised definition

Second alternative: OECD extended methodology at sub-comunas combined with FUA information

The second alternative also builds upon the FUA methodology. Nevertheless, it is easier to compute and requires the availably of less detailed data than the first alternative. A travel distance criterion is also applied and the second alternative also defines seven types of regions, amongst which one is urban and the rest have some elements of rurality. A simplified version of this alternative can define three types of comunas: urban, mixed and rural. The methodology is based on the following four steps.

  • • Step 1: Defining rural communities
  • - As a first step, census districts within comunas are defined as rural communities or non-rural communities. The threshold criteria used in the OECD extended methodology corresponds to 150 inhabitants per km2. For the case of Chile, this criterion value could serve as a starting point, but some robustness checks would help determine the sensitivity of the definition to this particular value. After defining census districts as either rural or non-rural communities, the definition measures the share of population within the comuna that live in rural communities is Step 2.
  • • Step 2: Defining three types of comunas
  • - Comunas are then classified as either rural, mixed or urban as follows:
    • ? Comunas are rural if more than 50% of the population from the comuna lives in rural communities.
    • ? They are mixed if more than 50% of the population but less than 25% lives in rural communities.
    • ? Finally, they are urban if less than 25% of the comuna lives in rural communities.
    • • Step 3: Upgrade categories from step 2
  • - The third step upgrades a rural comuna and a mixed comuna respectively if it contains an urban centre above a certain threshold value. The value of the threshold would have to correspond to the Chilean reality and would require some simulations.
  • • Step 4: FUA criteria
  • - The FUA definition identifies Chilean comunas belonging to the FUA. If rural and mixed comunas are contained within the FUA, they are respectively classified as rural FUA and mixed FUA comunas.
  • • Step 4: Distance criteria
  • - The last step considers the driving time of at least 50% of the population from rural and mixed comunas to the closest FUA. This only applies to the rural and mixed comunas outside the FUA and the driving time threshold is 60 minutes driving time. Thus, if the driving time of rural and mixed comunas is less than 60 minutes, they are classified as rural close to city and mixed close to city comunas.

The second alternative results in a typology containing seven types of comunas as depicted in Figure 1.4.

Figure 1.4. Classifying comunas in the second revised definition

Both alternatives have advantages and disadvantages. The first alternative is more precise than the second; however, it is more difficult to compute and requires the availability of very detailed data for the entire territory of Chile, making it more difficult to implement in the short term. The second alternative is less precise but easier to compute. Data for the second alternative are already available. In any case, both alternatives would represent a significant improvement from the current official definition.

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