Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rural Texas Teens Texting

This article struck me for two reasons: it showed significant differences between rural and urban populations and it was based on actual empirical data. The survey of 4,442 Texas high school students showed students at rural high schools were almost twice as likely as students at urban high schools to regularly use a cell phone while driving (48% to 25%) and significantly more likely to text message while driving (33% o 18%). Given those numbers perhaps it's less surprising that 65% of teen drving fatalities in Texas were in rural areas.

The article quotes Russell Henk of the Texas Transportation Institute saying, "At first blush, I would have expected kids in urban environments to be taking part in that activity more. But the more we've thought about it, I think for the typical urban teen driving in San Antonio or on the 610 Loop in Houston, a lot of those things they can't do. It's too congested, too dangerous and they can't take part."

The Texas Transportation Institute website also has a ton of reports on rural transportation in Texas.

Southern California Fires and the Rural

Last week, in the midst of the Southern California fires, I started to draft a blog post about the relationship between fires and rural living. It seems that the fires prompted many Internet users to express their deepest feelings about land use and rurality.

I first began thinking about rurality after viewing last week's New York Times’ readers comments here. At that time, I read a comment by one woman who wrote that the reason the fires had become so out-of-control is that developers had crowded out all wildlife by developing in rural areas. With more development, houses and lives were in danger, which created a bigger risk to health and safety than it would had the area remained undeveloped. I thought her sentiments were isolated, but they were not.

Later I went back to the site and read through many of the 300-plus comments. One gentleman noted that the fires are “a blessing in disguise to stop sprawl,” because people should not be able to build wherever they please. Another wrote that in assigning blame for the fires, she only wanted to “point fingers” at the developers who she said profited greatly by overdeveloping the region.
Many readers had strong ideas about the best use for land. Several expressed the sentiment that “houses should not be built in certain areas." One wrote, "Not everyone can have ocean front property or a majestic mountain view. When push comes to shove…Nature is my odds-on favorite."
These comments are interesting for two reasons. First, they blame people for choosing to follow an idyllic lifestyle in a less-urban part of California. Second, they exclude rural poor people from the discussion through the view that the rural is populated by so-called McMansions.
Returning to the first thought, many of the comments I read were angry and bitter at people for choosing to live in a rural or semi-rural setting. The comments seemed to indicate that the rural residents "deserved" to face the threat of fire because they had assumed the risk of living in a remote location. I appreciate the sentiment that buyers ought to understand the unique risks and challenges of living in a remote or isolated setting.
Many city dwellers have moved to the rural parts of my hometown and complained about certain aspects of rural life that are normal to long-time residents (e.g., noise from crop dusters, mice and squirrels in backyards, etc.). My view is that a certain amount of adjustment is required to live in an isolated area. Nonetheless, the attitude that rural people should be left to "fend for themselves" because they live in rural areas is troubling. Rural people should not be blamed for living where they do. While many choose to build new, million-dollar homes to "get away from it all," many more move to rural places because it can be cheaper.
This brings me to my second point--do these comments indicate an underlying sentiment about who should populate the rural? Is the fact that rural poor people were ignored from the readers' comments? I suspect that it is, because it indicates a broader sentiment about rural life, especially in Southern California. I conducted a search for "rural," and I saw few references using the word. I did find one reference referring to the shacks of "poor Black families" as a contrast to the "small, crowded homes" of Hispanic families in rural areas whose homes had also been destroyed in San Diego County. In fact, that was the only time I saw a reference to rurality and poor people (and race). When I think of rural areas, income level tends to be one of my first associations. Thus, it is interesting that most readers kept rurality as a term out of the blogs, and the few times it was used, they essentially reflected a view that rural residents are wealthy.
Furthermore, there was no discussion of race and the rural (contrast this discussion to, say, Hurricane Katrina, which was largely about race).
Now that a week has passed and coverage of the fires is no longer so constant, I wonder whether future stories and comments will continue to reflect attitudes about what is and is not rural, and who should live there.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Undomesticated animals in exurban Long Island

According to the 2000 census, Southold, NY, on Long Island has a population of 5,465. This town is now facing that classic issue of what to do with farm animals as more suburbanites (exurbanites) move to the area. In 1985, the locals got together to defeat a measure that would have set requirements for the amount of land needed for horses. This month, the town once again rallied to defeat an animal ordinance, this time focused on complaints about peacocks and other animals. The locals see regulation of these animals as a threat to their way of life.  Read this story about it in the New York Times.

I have to wonder if this is just a winning battle in a losing war. House prices in that area more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, while median income rose by only 18%. The NY Times article makes it sound like there will be additional attempts in the future to handle the nuisance issue. I suspect it is only a matter of time before the newcomers have enough clout to cast this as a "quality of life" issue.

Toxic tort in rural America

This article talks about the lung ailments in people who work with the butter flavoring on microwave popcorn. It is not entirely focused on rural areas, but the doctor who helped identify the problem noticed that he had multiple cases in Jasper, MO, with people who worked at the microwave popcorn plant there. While not all the cases are in rural plants, given the way that a single plant can impact an area, it is clear that this tort will have a great impact on Jasper and its surroundings.

Presidential Candidates on Rural America

The Daily Yonder gave a great deal of coverage to yesterday's National Summit on Agriculture and Rural Life and, in particular, a number of Presidential candidates' participation there. Hillary Clinton appeared by live hook-up and her extensive statement on rural issues, including the 2007 farm bill, appears on her campaign website. John Edwards and Barak Obama both appeared at this summit, as did several academics. Obama said that, if elected, he would hold a summit about rural issues -- not in Washington, DC, but in Iowa. You can read both his and Edwards' positions on immigration and unions, among the issues they discussed in relation to rurality, here. Edwards used this opportunity to reach rural voters to take up the cause of rural education, proposing a $15K subsidy for those willing to teach in under-served rural areas. He also, predictably, invoked his rural roots and identity.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Rurality and Women, in the same commentary, but not necessarily in relation to one another

This op ed piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg, who lives in upstate New York and formerly wrote a blog in the NYT called "The Rural Life," makes an interesting point about colleges in rural towns: it's difficult to get the profs. to live there these days. The bulk of the piece, however, is about another really important topic: women, confidence, voice. Everyone should read it for what it says about both, though not necessarily in relation to one another.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

An extreme example of lack of rural economic disversification

This Sacramento Bee story about a "company town" under siege as its owner faces bankruptcy highlights the economic vulnerability of rural places in an age of globalization. The town of Scotia in Humboldt County has a population of 800. The entire town, including all housing is owned by Pacific Lumber Company, which founded it in the late 1800s. Even the local fire department is run by Pacific Lumber, not by public funds. Now Pacific Lumber is essentially trying to sell the town as part of its reorganization plan to emerge from bankruptcy.

Sometimes it is hard to understand how globalization plays a role in changing remote places like Scotia that have been reliant on natural resources and raw materials such as timber. This tale of economic restructuring is almost certainly linked to price pressures that are associated with globalization -- unless, of course, you believe the company's owner, who blames it on the environmentalists.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The largest hog-butchering plant in the world in a town with a population of 70!

This story about recent immigration raids at the Smithfield hog-butchering plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina got me to thinking about why meat-processing plants have moved to rural areas in recent years. I mean, isn't it counter-intuitive (if not outright illogical from a business standpoint) to locate a plant that needs 5,200 employees in a town with a population of 70, in the midst of a county with a population of only 32,000? What was Smithfield thinking? That it could count on cheap local labor? but surely not 5,200 employees worth of cheap local labor? Smithfield must have been expecting to draw the immigrant workforce on which it has largely relied. Now with the immigration crackdown, Smithfield is doing what similar rural employers in low-skill industries do: using buses and vans to bring in workers from communities an hour or more away. How does it attract those employers under the circumstances? by paying twice what those workers can make in service jobs in their own communities. But twice the minimum wage of $5.25 is hardly a living wage.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rural Distances and Access to Rape Crisis Funding

This class had a previous discussion on law enforcement and crime reporting comparing urban/rural areas.
To follow up on a previous comment, I wanted to introduce previous experience I had in fundraising/networking for a rape crisis network in North Carolina.

I was appointed as a “safety and security chair” for student government while attending UNC-CH. A student government representative most likely appointed me because I am a feminist. This was because nurses at UNC-CH were paying out their own pockets to provide rape victims/survivors who had just undergone rape kit tests with clothing, shelter, etc. Police generally took the clothing as evidence after the rape kit test. (Hence the reason nurses were paying out of pocket/out of charity).

It turns out that there are two ways in which rape victims/survivors can get funding for rape kit tests which in North Carolina costs somewhere between $500.00-$1,000.00. Additionally funding for preventative treatment for pregnancy and STIs are available. Funding comes through the State as well as the University (for students) in the Chapel Hill area. Paying for the actual processing of DNA samples is an area I am unfamiliar with and seems to have generated national controversy, controversy2, especially in 2002.

However, attending the coalition meetings that included, rape crisis activists, counselors, police, and nurses, it became very apparent that “word was not getting out to the rural areas.” Part of the reason being that the laws governing funding for rape kit tests and disease and pregnancy prevention funding was/is not institutionalized. When I say institutionalized, what I mean is that some rape crisis centers are run by non profits, some volunteers, some, as in Detroit, Michigan are run by the police department. This greatly affects the way administrators are able to come into knowledge regarding funding.

In the end, the University had plenty (in the 5 figure digits) of funding given the number of persons who use the funds each year. (Although the numbers we had were twice as high as those shown on the UNC-CH crime report, I was told by coalition members that this was due to a difference in number of people who seek care for rape v. the number of people who actually file a report, go on to through the prosecution process, etc.) .

My role ended up being very simple, to link the funding (that had been sitting in Student Activities Funds for years) to the patients/nurses. Perhaps this is an indication that this type of funding needs to be a part of routine administrative law enforcement and/or hospitalization-of- rape-victims process. And not the responsibility of a 19 year old.

Applying this to the rural, the bureaucracy in my experience seems to create greater barriers for centers trying to figure out how to access state funding. Some of these barriers relate to the greater distances nurses, police, etc. would have to travel in order to have these types of coalition meetings. Some solutions I have seen work in rural communities have been secured blogs and/or teleconferencing, for those communities with funds for the technology.

Maybe in the future there would be ways that law enforcement or health care responders (ambulances) could carry with them these kits or the emergency contraception that (under general health care practitioner advisement) is more effective the sooner it is administered. Having law enforcement and health care workers so equipped seems especially important in rural areas, where rape survivors may live considerable distances from typical health care resources.

(I do acknowledge some problems with this proposal: namely that victims will often go to hospitals prior to reporting to police, greater security/comfort that hospitals/nurses provide than law enforcement officials, etc.)

A rural angle on recent Wisconsin tragedy?

After our discussion in class yesterday about crime and policing in rural America, I was struck by the New York Times coverage of the shooting this past week-end in Crandon, Wisconsin, population 2,000. I noted the "very local" status of the 20-year-old police officer who, while off-duty, shot 7 teenagers, including his former girlfriend, before taking his own life. The story indicates that his strengths (a sometimes helpful sort, voted "Best Cop" by the current high school senior class) and weaknesses (known for a bullying personality) as a law enforcement officer were well known in the community. He was, in short, very much one of them.