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, January 09, 2007

#9 Reason Rural Community Development is Hard to Do

Purpose of Existence

-- editors note, this is the ninth in a top ten list of reasons why rural community development is hard to do by Michael Holton that ran as the feature article in the December 2006 Center for Rural Affairs newsletter... john

Community identity is often clouded by confusion over the true motive for the community’s existence. Every small town in America, rural or not, has an identity and a purpose. This is part of the culture that is passed from one generation to the next. Communities have forgotten why they exist, and when change has altered that reason, they have not learned to adapt to the change.

History plays a large role in establishing the purpose and ultimately the pride we feel towards our hometown. The key to survival is to not live in the past. The truth is that history is not static; it is dynamic.

We are making history in our communities everyday. History is the change we make to our communities to make them better. In the end these changes serve a purpose for the community’s very existence.

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

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Michael, I appreciate the discussion that your top ten list has created. But, I must say, I take great issue with many of your sweeping generalizations about rural communties.

    This one in particular,
    "Communities have forgotten why they exist, and when change has altered that reason, they have not learned to adapt to the change."

    This oversimplification is, in this case, too much for me to ignore. I think saying that rural communities have "forgotten why they exist" is insulting and counterproductive - and, quite simply and plainly, wrong.

  • At 12:21 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    While I appreciate your comment on the oversimplification of the issue, I would say that you are wrong to ignore this as a threat. Many communities in the Midwest were set up as railroad towns, for example, and for many years thrived in that capacity. When the railroad left and even in some cases, the rail lines were taken out, the communities did not adapt to the changes. Most of them died or are perishing.

    One of the keys to rural community survival is the identity of the community and history. Learn from the changes and become stronger.

    So, in order to make this a productive discussion I will state simply (again) that in the eyes of rural culture, history and purpose of existence play a role in the vitality of the community. Whether or not I simplify the answer does not stop the discussion regarding change and adaptation. Everyone that contributes to this blog can see if the shoe fits and then wear it. While I may simplify answers in this top ten list does not mean that this is a simple process. I wish it were!

  • At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    (continued) - rural communities have not "forgotten why they exist" - and before you tell me about how many rural communties you've worked with, I have as well. To refer to a community as having one "memory" - whether it be a good memory or a failing one - is totally dismissive of the fact that communities, ESPECIALLY rural communities, are complex and never, never (not when they were founded, not at their zenith, not at their death) of one mind.

    This oversimplification leads people to believe that the future is a matter of fate, not choice, and that they have lost something that they once had even when that is not the case.

  • At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Michael, I'm not ignoring any threats. I'm saying that trying to encapsulate a rural community with jargonish language like...

    "Communities have forgotten why they exist, and when change has altered that reason, they have not learned to adapt to the change."

    IS a threat... jargon and cookie cutter concepts created by consultants do not serve our rural communities - understanding history is a good idea, but comparing ourselves to some nostalgic vision of a past never lived hinders more than helps.

  • At 6:38 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    I can see that I hit a nerve and for that I apologize. It was never my intention to take this to a personal level but in terms of macro sociology it is possible for a collective conscience to develop within a community.

    As far as the 20+ communities that I have worked with, it was used as more of a reference than a contest with others on the BLOG. I respect the fact that you are working in communities and are contributing to the BLOG. I look forward to these dialogues as I learn everyday why people and communities are always changing.

    I did state in my last BLOG that complexity is always present and that oversimplification only has been used to see certain trends. I have been able to get a lot of mileage in terms of dialogue with my list and if communication is one of the keys to survival, we have a good start. Keep up the good work and keep blogging!

  • At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well that was an interesting exchange. Michael, I appreciate your gesture of softening the tone a little. But I don't think the two of you were out of bounds. History can be a dangerous thing. When history is used to keep us from moving into the future, that's bad. I live in one of those railroad towns you talk about. That's why my community was started. But that is not now our purpose nor has it been our purpose in a long time.

    When we use the past to say, it can never be that way again... or, we will never be what we used to be... we are cheating ourselves. When we ignore new challenges, when we spend all of our time looking back or looking down, instead of looking at the horizon, we fail.

    Whiting, Iowa


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home