The trends are world wide: people and goods are increasingly mobile, compact cities develop into urban networks, industrialising agriculture is becoming footloose, rural life becomes urban life in a green setting. Social segregation, traffic nuisance,urban sprawl and other unwanted impacts of these trends challenge urban and regional planners. The search for planning answers to these issues is further complicated by the need for sustainable development at a global scale. What is the role of ecology in the context of the discussions on the future of town and country? The traditional, and still dominant, approach is based on the polarity of urban and rural worlds. In this perspective, ecology focuses on the 'nature' of protected areas and biodiversity. The papers in this special issue explore the prospects of a wider perspective in which natural processes are seen as basic to both, rural and urban development. This article is digging up the fundamental 'discourses' underlying the two approaches to ecology and nature. Firstly, the 'object-oriented' and 'process-oriented' discourses are analysed. Secondly, the prospects of a process-oriented discourse are illustrated with plans for the Dutch Randstad and the German Ruhr area. Then, some new concepts are introduced that may strengthen the institutional conditions for the process-oriented approach. Discourses, concepts, plans and projects all circle around the central question in this article about the role of ecology in planning the edge of the city.
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