Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Community Revitalization Dialogue III - American ruralism and the clash with modern values

- from the desk of Michael Holton, Center for Rural Affairs,

Community Revitalization Dialogue - Part III

American ruralism and the clash with modern values

In the New York Times on August 22, Abby Goodnough wrote about ruralism in Florida and what developers are looking for. The term ruralism in this case refers to the romantic notion that city and suburban dwellers are looking for peace and quiet. People are longing to own a pickup or tractor while watching birds in the day. It is the idea that people will buy a piece of the rural landscape to hear the wind in the trees.

The reason that the romantic notion of American ruralism is catching hold is that people long for a time that they remember and not what is reality. Many city and suburbanites grew up in rural areas and they want their children to experience that life. There is a major problem with this picture however.

Living in a rural setting that reminds them of the life that they may have grown up in is vastly different then what they really want. People want the convenience of “small-town” living without the hardships. Many rural communities existed for years and still exist with only the minimum resources to turn to. People long for that “chic” rural way of life but they also want Espresso houses, video stores and tanning salons in these communities. They want peace and quiet surroundings but convenience around the corner that living in the city brings.

If we are to promote the rural way of life as a means to help us attract people to our small communities in rural areas then we must be realistic with our marketing approach. What we need to make clear to everyone is that while rural living may appeal to many, it does not come without some price. To preserve our rural, local culture, as we know it, we cannot continue this schizophrenic desire to be both urban and rural.

Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here or for more information contact Michael Holton at

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I thought I would comment because I have mixed feelings about your article.
    While I do agree with your comments about parents wanting their children to experience the same life they may have had growing up in a rural area, I feel that many Americans leave rural areas simply because of the job opportunities and the potential to make more money in larger cities.
    I think that many families are beginning to realize that while there may be higher wages to be earned in larger cities, there are prices to pay with that such as higher crime rates, higher cost of living, etc. and are longing for a better way of life. I think that is reality!
    I also feel that your comment "people long for the "chic" rural way of life but also want a way of life wanting Espresso houses, video stores, and tanning salons" is foolish. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have modern day conviences in a rural community! Isn't that what rural communities want? Isn't having those types of conviences what brings jobs to rural communities which is what will bring the younger family to that community to raise their family, support those businesses and keep that particular rural community from becoming a "ghost-town"?
    I think if you are looking for a realistic marketing approach to promote, you need to be clear and simply remind people is that while city living may appeal to many, it does not come without some price!

  • At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I understand that not every rural community can have every convenience that every person desires. But I agree with the previous poster that rural communities should not have to acccept a second class way of life just because they live in a rural community. In many ways, rural communities have advantages in creating a better quality of life (be it through a coffee house, video stores, entertainment, good food, etc.) because Blockbuster, Starbucks, Applebee's and all the rest of the chains are not that interested in most rural communities. Therefore, local entrepreneurs have opportunities to start a business and not be crushed by some big, distant corporation.

  • At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Michael L. Holton said…

    These are good comments! My question to either of you is whether or not we can maintain a "rural" identity that some folks may have wanted in moving back to the countryside? I do agree with the second poster that we do not have to have a "second-class" way of thinking and indeed I feel that the rural image and landscape that I moved back to from Denver is what I would like to preserve while raising my children. Anytime entrepreneurs can make something possible better for the economy of the small rural areas without jeopardizing the environmental, social and physical qualities of the region than it should be explored and possibly pursued. I would like to hear how others feel about this and how far can we go without losing what we valued in rural areas to begin with!

  • At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My question to Mr. Holton is how do you determine "how far can we go without losing what we valued in rural areas to begin with"
    Is living in a rural community that is progressing through its schools, businesses and way of life going too far? I think you have an unrealistic outlook on looking at "rural life". Mr. Holton made the comment that he and his family moved to a rural area from Denver, and I'm only speculating here, but I'm guessing part of the reason that Mr. Holton chose to leave a large city is because of crime rates, schooling, and other similar reasons. My point is this, living in a rural area should not make it "second class" as commented earlier. I think most people that long for the "countryside" are simply wanting to get away from the high cost of living, the crime that larger cities have, commuting to your job, etc. But leaving the city should not involve sacrificing modern conviences! Once again, without progress, that rural community that Mr. Holton is longing for is what most of us refer to as a ghost town! I live in North Dakota, and every which way you look there is a ghost town that was afraid of progression.

  • At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Michael L. Holton said…

    This is a great commentary and I appreciate it. If the purpose of this BLOG was simply to preach to the choir then I feel that it is useless. You are right about a town wanting to improve themselves through progress and modernization. This is what we all want for "rural" areas. My point to you and to all of the others that posted is how far do we go with modernization before we lose the very rural identity that some may seek. A ghost town is not the answer but neither is progress without real thought to the social infrastructure that is already present. I, personally, do not want Wal-Mart moving into my town of 1,300. As of now, economics wouldn't allow it for Wal-Mart's purposes. But what if it would?? We are then faced with modernization at the expense of rural identity and that is the real crux of what was posted. As the last poster indicated, my family and I moved from Denver back to northeast Nebraska to get away from urban chaos, which included crime, traffic, impersonal contact, etc. We do, however, want some of the conveniences and have helped other small towns in entrepreneurial efforts to get some of them. Thanks for the good discussion!!


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