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

Monday, January 01, 2007

#5 Reason Community Development is Hard to Do

Parochial Attitudes

by Michael Holton, Center for Rural Affairs,

editor's note - this is an excerpt from the "ten reasons why rural communiting development is hard to do..." from the December 2006 Center for Rural Affairs newsletter feature by Michael Holton - this excerpt includes the narrative explaining the fifth reason...

You hear the term parochial brought up in discussions regarding rural communities, even with those trying to work together regionally. Many people do not know what parochial means or why it is used in the context of community development. Our definition refers to small rural communities being insular or narrow in focus or scope.

Parochial attitudes in small rural communities [reflect] the ability [of] these areas to shut themselves off from the outside. Communities, particularly small rural communities in the Midwest, have the notion that they have always managed to do it on their own, and they don't need any outside help. It is this independent desire of the people that is reflected in local institutions and their way of doing businesss.

The problem with this attitude today is that small rural communities cannot do it on their own as we tranistion from a local to a global economy. This [is] change and upheaval in the traditional sense of economic and social development.

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

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I do not agree, or I see it differently at least. In most rural communities that I have seen making progress in community development, it is local intiative that most often makes progress. Often as not, "help" from government hinders or hamstrings local initiative. I think it is healthy for communities to count on their own initiative as opposed to counting on outside forces. I do agree that true parochialism, ignoring what is going on in the world around us, is not good for rural communities. But economic trends such as globalization must be viewed in context, most rural communities will suceed in spite of many of these trends, not because of them. Most rural communities that suceed will do so by capitalizing on the assets in their community.

  • At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think Michael is right, rural communities cannot ignore globalization and large trends. Small communities cannot do it on their own. And when they turn a blind eye to help from the outside they will struggle or fail.

  • At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree, they should not ignore these trends, I said that in the first comment. But I disagree that rural communities will fail without outside help. They will fail if they cannot help themselves

  • At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think, as has been expressed, that government "help" often gets in the way of local community development efforts in rural places - in my experiences anyway.

    Many rural development programs do not work for rural communities like mine, farm programs undermine rural development by subsidising consolidation. I think rural communities are better off when they think and act on their own initiative first, and then look for assistance from government programs that fit what they are doing.

    E.J. Dionne wrote in the Washington Post just the other day, "There is no better way to win public support for government programs that work than to be serious about shutting down the ones that don't." Perhaps if we would heed Dionne advice we could get more rural development that actually works for more rural communities.

    Dougherty, Iowa

  • At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Rural McCook said…

    On dealing with change there is a quick read (parable format) out there entitled "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson. Four characters comprise the story: "'Sniff', who sniffs out change early; 'Scurry', who scurries into action; 'Hem', who denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse; and, 'Haw', who learns to adapt in time when he sees changing leads to something better." - Rural McCook, NE.

  • At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    while you are looking at the "who moved my cheese" - check out "the learning sheep"

    also about change and response to external forces

  • At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Perhaps i am missing something, but I do not think that resistance to change (or parochialism, not a good term to use in this context, btw) and a community's desire for independence and self-determination spring from the same frame of mind. It is quite possible for a community to resist global trends and work from the inside out instead of the outside in and, at the same time, embrace change.

    A few days ago a commentor urged us to bring ideas or examples to our discussion. If you want to look at a place that is bucking globalization and focusing on internal development, look at what is going on in Woodbury County, Iowa.

  • At 10:28 PM, Blogger Center for Rural Affairs said…

    You can see some of what Woodbury County is doing at the site above. Also, a google search on Woodbury County economic development, or just Woodbury County, reveals some of the media and other attention that Woodbury County has received.

    John Crabtree,

  • At 5:52 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    I would like to respond to a couple of comments. As any word that is used in a particular context, there may have been a better word to use describing the attitude I suggested. The very definition of parochialism could be used: limited, narrow-minded, provincial. I believe that there is a strong need and desire to look at the local community and work from the inside out and using Woodbury County, IA is a great example, along with Dakota County and South Sioux City as well. They are working from the inside out but if you think that they are not looking globally, then I will dedicate a whole BLOG to their efforts. My hat goes off to the tri-state area around Sioux City, IA. They have combined global outlook with local initiatives and the result has been one worth emulating.

  • At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Michael, just to follow-up. I did not say that rural communities should ignore global trend, rather that they should look to themselves for the ideas, initiative and effort they need. In fact, this is probably the best summation of what I was trying to communicate...

    "I agree, they should not ignore these trends, I said that in the first comment. But I disagree that rural communities will fail without outside help. They will fail if they cannot help themselves"

    Thanks for stimulating this discussion Michael, it has been very valuable. Whiting, Iowa


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