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Rural vs. Urban: Bridging the Political Divide
Jeremy Faludi, 23 Apr 05

Throughout the world, there is political tension between urban and rural. In the US, the divide is generally characterized by liberal rich urbanites and conservative farmers/ranchers/etc. who are just squeaking by--it is the red state / blue state divide, which scales fractally down within states and counties. Urbanites tend to drive environmental legislation, which often has large (and difficult-to-comply-with) impacts on rural livelihoods. As the global population shift to cities continues, this bitter divide will only exacerbate.

How can we can bridge this divide?

We’ve posted before about some clever ideas and discussion--Goa 2100's 'rurbanism', and The Next American City. Today I spoke briefly with two Seattle officials at the 2005 Sustainable Northwest conference, and here are their opinions (plus my reactions thereto):

Steve Nicholas, director of the city of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment, suggests it could be done by having more supportive economic relationships. Rural lands could supply higher-value products or services to cities (rather than just the unrefined commodities of food, timber, etc., which have such low margins they don’t let rural populations prosper). He particularly thinks biofuels (which could be from oil-crops rotated with food crops, or perhaps, even better, from cellulose waste) and electricity from wind power (wind-farms can also be pasture-lands for ranchers, or farmlands). Presumably small-scale industry which doesn't require much infrastructure could serve the same purpose (taking some third-world leapfrogging lessons back to undeveloped parts of the first world). ...The irony here is that the more economically supported rural areas are, the less people will migrate from them to urban areas, thus killing two birds with one stone (unless you’re a firm believer in the ecological and cultural advantages of high-population cities and sparsely-populated countryside, which there are strong arguments for).

Theresa Koppang, of the King County dept. of Natural Resources, suggested that a first step should be to simply increase the civic dialogue between urban and rural communities, because there is such a huge gulf of misunderstanding. (Farmers know much more about their land than city voters, who have at best gotten their knowledge third- or fourth-hand, and this should be respected.) I think traditional methods (town-hall meetings) would be fairly useless for this, but it would be a great opportunity for blogs--they can hold arbitrarily large amounts of detailed information on proposed legislation, supporting research, and links to stakeholder organizations; they can provide forums for discussion/debate that are open to all interested parties for as long a period of time as it takes to reach understanding; transparency and citizen-involvement could skyrocket.
...There would also be huge potential for flame wars, but presumably good moderation could minimize this.

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Posted by: BLOGGO, LORD OF HARMONY on 24 Apr 05

global villages is about codeveloping that kind of future. They are rethinking the "pattern language" and there's the concept of "mother city" - which is a "mother" for a group of villages. Or is it the other way round? In any case, do come by and share thoughts, links and action!

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 24 Apr 05

This week hosts our 15th online event focusing on rural
around the globe. The online conference is a follow-up to last year's dialogue on urban

The discussion is quite rich when we examine the linkages between urban and rural environments. For example, are urban travelers prepared (educated) in advance before heading out to rural environments?

Do leaders in rural communities have the best understanding of how to market their goods or services in nearby cities?

The Web is one tool -- and certainly not the only one -- that can bridge the divide by making it disappear.

Posted by: Ron Mader on 25 Apr 05

"Farmers know much more about their land than city voters, who have at best gotten their knowledge third- or fourth-hand, and this should be respected."

'at best'? what an assumption. most of my urban friends grew up on midwestern farms and probably know more about the modern reality of those farms than their parents did.

Posted by: hijiki on 25 Apr 05

Hijiki: I wonder whose experience is more common, yours or mine & the authors? Very well might be yours. Personally, I've only ever known a small handful of people who didn't grow up in the city or suburbs. Now I'm not the most social person around, but I do know a fair number of people. And most of them wouldn't have a clue about farming realities, I think.

Either way, seeking a true dialogue between urban, suburban, and rural peoples is an intriguing idea. Might look to the interfaith movement for help in approaching grassroots dialogue.

Posted by: Stephen A. Fuqua on 26 Apr 05

i definitely wouldn't claim mine is more common, however most of the kids i know who grew up rural did move to the city. it's the author's claim that a city-dweller's understanding of food production is based on third/fourth-hand knowledge (at best!) that is plain dumb and not at all in the spirit of attempting dialogue. it's a claim that one side is correct while the other is misinformed. that is not only false but very divisive.

Posted by: hijiki on 27 Apr 05

Take a step back and think this through again.. Your friends know the in-depth realities of farming because they're from the midwest? That's like saying someone's an expert programmer because they were born in Cupertino.

I'm talking about the difference between people who read about something in a newspaper or a website (or even a thoroughly-researched-and-well-argued paper about a particular legistlative initiative) and people who do this for a living, who have made it their livelihoods for twenty years, fifty years, often several generations. There's no comparison. I was born in the rural midwest too, but I don't presume to know how to run a farm.

My whole point was that there needs to be _more_ communication and connection between urban and rural people. Toes are often stepped on because people don't realize the complications of what they propose, and don't make the effort to connect with the folks on the other side and figure out ways to overcome the obstacles. And people need to see that it _is_ possible that someone from the outside can step in and tell me how to do a better job of something that's been my career for thirty years (and that will hopefully be mutual, where the urban industrialite gets as many good lessons as the rural rancher.)

The useful question to answer is: how can we increase the connections? Can it be simple dialogue? (If so, how to make that happen?) Does it have to be more equitable economic ties? (If so, what would they be?) Can it be geographic intermingling (like in Goa2100's Rurbanism)? I hope we'll see more and more attempts at answering these questions in coming years. Certainly if anyone knows of projects happening today, I'd love to hear about it.

Posted by: Jeremy Faludi on 27 Apr 05

let me clarify one last time. i was responding to the statment that, at best, city dwellers base their opinion on 3rd-4th hand knowledge. forget cupertino... again, we grew up on farms doing farm work, not merely 'in the midwest'. we all go back to visit our families and see what's changing. most have given up on farming. that is first and second hand knowledge. but i digress, this is all beside the point of communication and frankly it doesn't matter if you don't acknowledge that the statement is false.

my point was that it is divisive (exactly opposite of the intended goal) to claim that my knowledge is inferior to yours. i responded with a similar claim to illustrate this point. starting with blanket assumptions is just a poor way to encourage open communication. it's different perspectives and both sides are worth hearing.

perhaps it's as simple as saying:
'often farmers have a deep understanding of their land that many city-dwellers are unaware of'

as opposed to:
'farmers know much more about their land than city voters, who have at best gotten their knowledge third- or fourth-hand.'

Posted by: hijiki on 28 Apr 05

Auroville, India is an interesting "global village" that might be worth checking out...

Posted by: Andrew Tarter on 29 Apr 05



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