Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Obama's rural listening tour: How rural is it?

Read the New York Times commentary on the listening tour here. It also lists the stops and which officials will be present on behalf of the Obama administration.

I was skeptical that this was going to be very rural when I saw the first few stops listed on the tour, so I decided to evaluate the rurality of each place.
  • The first is Wattsburg, near Erie, Pennsylvania. Erie is a city of just over 100,000 and not exactly what I think of as rural, even if Wattsburg borough is only 378. Plus, the population density of Erie county is 350/square mile.
  • The next is La Crosse, Wisconsin, population 50,493 in a county with a population just over 110,000, making it just barely metropolitan.
  • St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana has just under 50,000 residents, but the population density is about 200 per square mile. Of course, it may be culturally rural.
  • Zanesville, Ohio, population 25,112, is micropolitan--and Appalachian. (It was the subject of recent litigation about an adjacent area, Coal Run, that it had refused to annex; read the story here).
  • Las Cruces, New Mexico is metropolitan, with nearly 90,000 residents, in a county with with more than 200,000. Certainly, more rural places can easily be found in the American Southwest.
  • Scottsbluff, Nebraska, with 14,732 residents, gets closer to the mark. After all, Scotts Bluff County has just 36,000, and the county's poplation density is 50/square mile.
  • Ringgold, Virginia is not even a census designated place, but it is in Pittsylvania County, with a population of nearly 62,000. Still, the county's population density is 64 persons per square mile, which doesn't sound so rural after all.
  • Hamlet, North Carolina has a population just over 6,000; it is situated in Richmond County, population 46,564.
  • By many measures, Bethel, Alaska, population 5,471, is rural. That's Bethel City. Bethel's wider census area has a population of 16,006. (Read other blog posts about Bethel and environs here, here and here). The area's population density is a mere .4 persons per square mile.
With the possible exception of Ringgold, Virginia then--for which we don't even have a population--the only stop on Obama's rural listening tour that meets the U.S. Census Bureau's definition of rural--a population of less than 2,500 or open territory--is Wattsburg, Pennsylvania. And Wattsburg is in a metropolitan county. So, where are the category 9s on the rural-urban continuum code ... because that would be indisputably rural.

Besides that, there's the matter of where President Obama himself will be for the listening tour ...

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