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

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

#2 Reason Rural Community Development is Hard to Do

Differences between Rural and Urban

by Michael Holton, Center for Rural Affairs,

Agencies and funding sources often try to address community development as if what worked for urban areas will also work for rural areas. This very seldom happens as they are two different beasts. Why refer to them as beasts? Because urban and rural communities have lives of their own.

Where do we separate the two so that we can all grasp the differences? Maybe we don’t have to. This is an area of understanding and perception, so it all leads back to the fundamental, yet simple, conclusion that rural is anything urban is not.

While this is easy for some of us who live in smaller rural townships (less than 2,000 in population), it is not as easy for agencies addressing development and providing funding. Fair or not, this becomes one of the reasons why community development in rural areas is so difficult.

Since a good discussion about our two previuos posts is ongoing, I thought, let's just stick with it and provide more detail on another of Michael Holton's ten reasons rural development is difficult. This is the narrative portion about the second reason rural community development is hard to do (Center for Rural Affairs newsletter)... John Crabtree

Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 10:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am a little stumped with these most recent posts from Mr. Holten. I must admit that I am not usually in agreement with him or his views on Rural America and have criticized him many times, so its only fair of me to say that I think he has made some very good points in these recent articles.

    I think sometimes the Economic Development and Gatekeepers get a bad rap and I have some issues with that.

    I am speaking from personal experience when I say that the community that I used to live in was literally dying. We had a beautiful main street in a town of 1800 people with half the store fronts closed and there was no enthusiasim left until our Economic Development Director arrived to town. He brought a few suggestions to the table without saying "you are doing this wrong and that wrong" he pointed out all the attributes that the little town had to offer and announced his goal was to fill in every store front in that town within a year. We thought he was dreaming, but you know what? With that attitude of looking at whats good about that community rather than what it didn't have, the enthusiasim that poured out of people blew me away. The town just needed some self confidence and hope, and without that Economic Development Director, they just wouldn't have seen it and wouldn't have had the confidence in themselves. No he didn't do it by himself. I'm not saying that, but Rural America just needs to have a little self confidence and hope like he brought to my home town.

    I have criticized Michael about the fact that everyone has to have all these planning meetings and discussion groups and on and on. Yes you must have those, but in addition to the meetings and groups you need some actual results and fruition that are coming from these discussions. I think its far more important to look at your attributes and improving the quality of life instead of saying "gee our little town isn't anything unless we have this or that".

    We can all sit around and talk and complain and whine until we are blue in the face but in the meantime...small town America is dying. Look at John's previous post about Georgia wiping all the small towns off their map "to look less cluttered". This is the reality that if the citizens of Rural America don't do something to save themselves, you are screwed because the government could care less. It will be " a lot less cluttered" without us. There is another comment from someone from Dougherty Iowa who along with the rest of their town have been fighting to save their post office. They are fighting that fight and so far are winning.

    I get sad and just as frustrated as everyone else. I don't have any magic solutions or ideas to offer really, but I felt that I needed to comment.

    I would like to add one more thought - the farmer that said "we're not opposed to progress, we're opposed to change. Change is something that happens to you, and progress is something you participate in..."

    he hit it right on the head.

  • At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What constitutes rural can be elusive, but as Justice Brennan said about pornography, "I know it when I see it."

  • At 3:41 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    I don't blame you for having issues with giving bad raps regarding economic developers. My point has always been that economic development is not enough but in the case that you highlighted acted as a catalyst (along with him). Another point we agree on was that traditional economic development is based on need rather than assets and I believe we are seeing more and more economic development based upon assets today. The economic developer that you mentioned acted more like a community developer and could see the whole picture rather than just pieces. He used his position as an economic developer and filling downtown business became the method. In order for progress to occur, change is sometimes inevitable. I agree with the farmer who sees progress and resists change as it is put on him. He/She needs to initiate the change for themselves for progress, not an outsider.

  • At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    One comment that should be pointed out about the first comment in this thread, and Michael did this to an extent, is that the economic developer that was mentioned was working to enhance what the community already had, a focal point, an asset (as Michael put it)

    The way it sounds, he helped the community see what they already had and helped find ways to build on it.

  • At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    oh, and one question, what is the definition of rural (in other words, what is the government's definition)?

  • At 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i think that is what the first comment actually said isn't it?

  • At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I believe that there has been general agreement, among all the commentors so far, that building on existing assets is the best way to go for more rural communities. I think the more recent post was trying to provide emphasis to that point.

  • At 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Urban areas are of two types—urbanized areas and urban clusters—identical in the criteria used to delineate them but different in size. The Census Bureau defines an urbanized area wherever it finds an urban nucleus of 50,000 or more people. They may or may not contain any individual cities of 50,000 or more (152 currently do not). In general, they must have a core with a population density of 1,000 persons per square mile and may contain adjoining territory with at least 500 persons per square mile. Urbanized areas have been delineated using the same basic threshold (50,000 population) for each decennial census since 1950, but procedures for delineating the urban fringe are more liberal today. In 2000, 68 percent of Americans lived in 452 urbanized areas.

    A rural area, according to the Census Bureau, is, by definition, anything that is not urban.

  • At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    50,000? So, a city with 25,000 people in a rural area is a rural community? Wow, that seems high.

  • At 11:10 PM, Blogger Dougherty Iowa said…

    definitions like that (50,000 and below constituting a rural community) leave rural communities like Dougherty in the dust

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