Rural decline has become an indisputable fact and a global issue. As a developing country, China is simultaneously facing unprecedented rapid urbanization and severe rural decline. The coordinated development of its rural human–land relationship is therefore of great significance for ensuring the country’s
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Rural decline has become an indisputable fact and a global issue. As a developing country, China is simultaneously facing unprecedented rapid urbanization and severe rural decline. The coordinated development of its rural human–land relationship is therefore of great significance for ensuring the country’s food security and achieving both rural revitalization and sustainable development. Yet, the related research on this complex subject has mostly focused on a single element: rural settlements. Since studies of the rural human–land relationship tend to only discuss the coordinated change in rural populations vis-à-vis rural settlement area, their degree of spatial matching and intensive utilization level of rural settlements has been largely overlooked. To rectify this imbalance, using data on rural populations and rural settlement area in counties of Shandong Province in 2009 and 2018, this paper applied the methods of per capita rural settlement area, the Theil index, and Tapio’s decoupling model to quantitatively identify the rural human–land relationship along three dimensions: intensive utilization level, spatial matching degree, and change coordination degree. The results revealed that the per capita rural settlement area in Shandong Province was as high as 212.18 m2
/person in 2018, which exceeded the standard to varying degrees in all cities, having an overall geographical pattern of being high in the north and low in the south. The Theil index for all cities was small, which indicates that the spatial matching between rural population and rural settlements is high. To sum up, there are small differences in the utilization of rural settlements among cities, and their extensive utilization of rural settlements is a common phenomenon. In addition, the relationship between the changes in the rural population size and rural settlement area corresponded to a discordant state, in the form of strong negative decoupling, expansive negative decoupling, and expansive coupling; however, among them, the strong negative decoupling type was the dominant type. It is worth noting that all of these three types will exacerbate the extensive utilization of rural settlements. Accordingly, this paper proposes policies and measures, such as the paid withdrawal of rural homesteads, an expanded scope of homestead transfer, cross-regional “increasing versus decreasing balance”, classified promotion of rural revitalization, and improved village planning.