As in many other countries, official measures of urbanization in Brazil have been unable to properly distinguish spatial patterns of rural and urban organization. The literature discusses various classification systems and recognizes the existence of a “rural-urban continuum”, as well as theoretical frameworks and alternative categorizations that aim to look beyond the urban-rural dichotomy. However, there are no practical solutions to properly formalize or operationalize them, especially at the micro-level such as census tracts. We propose a methodology that assumes a measurable rural-urban continuum. The “Urban Gradient Index” uses simple and comprehensive variables to quantify the degree to which a certain area is urban based on demographic and spatial features. We build it at the level of census tracts for both Brazil and the Belo Horizonte Metropolitan Region to verify consistency at distinct aggregation levels. Results indicate that the index provides a much more nuanced picture of settlement patterns, unveiling a spatial gradient between rural and urban in distinct spatial extents. It offers an advantage over the traditional measure “degree of urbanization” by revealing “hidden ruralities” in predominantly urban areas that require specific territorial planning and public policy interventions.
Urban Gradient; Rural-Urban Continuum; Territorial Planning; Belo Horizonte Metropolitan Region; Brazil