Saturday, December 13, 2008

Overlooking rurality, again

David Brooks wrote this week in his New York Times column that Obama should use his recently announced infrastructure investment plan to respond to the way Americans live now -- not in cities, but in suburbs and exurbs, where they increasingly find themselves wanting infrastructure that facilitates community.

If you asked people in that age of go-go suburbia [the 1980s and 1990s] what they wanted in their new housing developments, they often said they wanted a golf course. But the culture has changed. If you ask people today what they want, they’re more likely to say coffee shops, hiking trails and community centers.

Brooks says that the exurbanites' desire for such meeting places responds to their realization that they missed "community and social bonds." He goes on to argue that Obama's half-century infrastructure plan should take these desires into account, helping "create suburban town squares" and other "focal points" such as charter schools and pre-K and national service centers and the like.

Of course, what is largely missing from Brooks' vision--and more importantly (I presume) from Obama's--are the infrastructure needs of rural places. Brooks' call for investment and planning that respond to exurban needs would presumably have an impact in rural places--after all, many in exurbia see themselves as rural, of a sort. At a minimum, exurbanites tend to be closer to rural places. But neither Brooks nor those who wrote letters in response to his column are taking up the needs of the forgotten fifth of our population who live in rural and/or nonmetropolitan places. They may already have the structures that facilitate community -- the structures that exurbanites are longing for -- but they are not without their own infrastructure needs, such as for public and other transportation, child-care center, and better schools. Rurality may be associated with organic change and lack of outside intervention, but there's no reason it has to be that way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a bang for the buck issue, however?

It seems like the investments contemplated by the Obama folks involve things like rebuilding over-used and under-maintained bridges and the like...