Saturday, July 26, 2008

"If you've seen one rural place, you've seen one rural place"

That's a familiar adage to those who study rurality, and the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire took it at least somewhat seriously when they undertook the study they've just published: Place Matters: Challenges and Opportunities in Four Rural Americas. Authors Lawrence C. Hamilton, Leslie R. Hamilton, Cynthia M. Duncan and Chris R. Colocousis looked at four types of rural communities: (1) amenity-rich rural America (think rural resorts and rural gentrification); (2) declining, resource-dependent rural America (communities dependent on agriculture and mining); (3) chronically poor rural America (think Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta); and (4) amenity/decline rural America (think the Pacific Northwest and New England).

The report is based on the findings of a 2007 survey of almost 8,000 residents of 19 counties in 9 states. A lot of topics are covered, including educational opportunity, marriage, outmigration, the natural environment, and the use of public assistance. The authors offer different recommendations for the four different categories of rural places, but they suggest these "policy ideas" for all rural places:
  • a need for advanced telecommunications technology
  • access to affordable healthcare
  • effective educational facilities and staff for children and adults
  • more accessible and efficient public transportation
  • affordable housing
  • jobs that offer living wages
The study notes (quoting Drabenstott & Sheaff 2002) that "Rural America has a tendency to look backward at what it has lost, rather than looking forward at what it might gain." They appropriately call for attention to ongoing changes (and indicate the intent to do a follow-up study in many of the communities in two years) to best inform our policy-making about rural places.

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