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

Friday, December 22, 2006

Top 10 - Reasons Rural Community Development is Hard to Do

Top 10 Reasons Rural Community Development is Hard to Do...

by Michael Holton, Center for Rural Affairs,

For the past three years, the Center for Rural Affairs newsletter has carried a monthly column by Michael Holton focused on rural community revitalization. S ome articles referred to community development successes, while others related various struggles that come with the territory in community development. This month, Michael uses his experiences and insights to define the top 10 reasons rural community development is so difficult to accomplish.

These are the reasons Michael outlines:
1. People Don’t Understand What Community Development Is
2. Agencies Overlook Differences between Rural and Urban
3. Community Gate Keeper Resistance
4. Change Is Not Comfortable
5. Parochial Attitudes Must Be Overcome
6. Lack of Resources and Capacity
7. Negative Attitudes
8. Lack of Participation across the Generations
9. Confused Purpose of Existence
10. Lack of Leadership Capacity

you can read the full explanation for each at

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

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    what does community gate keeper resistance mean (#3)?
    it doesn't make any sense to me?

  • At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is what Mr. Holton said about #3

    Rural communities are made up of a social group called the gate keepers. This may prove to be one of the most difficult aspects of community development in small rural towns.

    Gate keepers are usually people who have lived in the community for years, often clear back to the time when small rural communities were thriving. They made a living and prospered while raising their children. The community was and is still good to them. They do not want to see new community development come in and take away what they have acquired.

    These people often resist big changes with statements like, “We don’t need that!” or “It was good enough for me when I was growing up.” The key to dealing with the gate keeper plight is to involve them from the beginning in the discussion and work.

  • At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i don't think rural communities are "made up of gate keepers"
    there may be people like that in every community, urban and rural, but rural communities are not "made up of gate keepers"

  • At 11:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    and every community has someone telling them "I'm from the government and I'm here to help..."

    that doesn't help rural communities in the long run either...

  • At 1:17 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    I want to respond on the "gate keepers" and bogging down with the definitions. I confess that I am no expert in all of community development but I can tell you in working with small rural communities across much of the US that they all had "gate keepers" or people that saw no need for change and felt that the community was fine. This will slow down efforts by others who may feel need for changes that may be beneficial for the community. Breaking down the communication barrier with "gate keepers" and including them in the decision making process (when appropriate) will help ease changes that may be occurring.

  • At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i could be wrong, but i think that one of the things that has bothered several people in several of these discussions is the habit of economic development types to walk into a community and say "what this town needs is..."

    not only does that seems to cause as many problems as it fixes, i feel that it contributes to the gate-keeper response - when a bunch of development types are running about saying do this and do that and what's wrong with this community is... When you see enough of that it is difficult to avoid one of the "gate-keeper" symptoms (namely, "there's nothing wrong with this community, people just don't appreciate what we have...").

    Also, one healthy aspect of the "gate-keeper" ,if it is not taken too far, is the recognition that many answers to challenges in our communities are best handled by the people that live there.

    Whiting, Iowa

  • At 6:31 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    What a great response! I really appreciate your perspective on the positive attributes of a "gate keeper". I do believe that you are correct when you look at the reasons some of these protective natured folks respond the way they do. If I had people always telling me what to do, I might be more of a "gate keeper". However, part of the problem I see with "gate keepers" are those who resist internal change from others in the community because they feel what they had or have is the only way. Diversity of thought and action is usually healthy for most rural communities. With all of this being said, I really liked hearing your opinion that actually gave a positive twist on the people referred to as "gate keepers".

  • At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That is the most difficult question in this discussion, i think, determining what a rural community wants and needs and finding ways to help them help themselves in attaining it - we measure so many things in terms of growth, economic growth, population growth, etc.

    I often wonder, are these "growth" oriented strategies a good measure of progress in a community?

    I knew a farmer once who 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..."

  • At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    what the hell does a community do about lacking leadership?

  • At 8:15 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    It is interesting that you wondered about lacking leadership?? When a community can no longer lead change or even recognize it sometimes, the community is doomed to fail. If I were to work on any individual aspect of a community that needs to see the future it would be in developing leaders through training and desire. It is like the joke regarding how many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?? Only one! The light bulb has to want to change first! Thanks for all of the input.


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