In the current midst of this year’s presidential election and upon reading this week’s chapter of Levy’s Contemporary Urban Planning, the topic of rural America has become an important issue, as people have spoken up about what they expect from our new President-elect. Living on the highly populated east coast of the country, many people tend to forget that rural areas still occupy a significant share of the U.S. population. The persistence of rural poverty in America has been linked to limited opportunity structures, which are the outcome of past social and economic development policies, as well as the current state of economic transformation. On a visit to Vermont this past weekend, I could see how rural areas there lack stable employment and investment in their communities. They have been isolated from economic growth and social change, yet they suffer from the effects of a changing economy by not being able to keep up with it.
Not all rural areas face the same reasons for their economic challenges. The Midwest, for example, which had a booming industrial coal economy in past decades, is now suffering from job loss and depopulation brought on by technological changes and in part from the fracking boom. Many Midwesterners are looking towards President-elect Trump to bring back the prosperity of the coal industry for them, but only time will tell if that plan is actually feasible. On the other hand, areas such as Appalachia have been chronically distressed since decades ago. Economic and community development in these regions across the country face a number of different challenges.
These rural communities are isolated and lack population density and infrastructure that can support many forms of economic development. Furthermore, these physical factors lead to impacts on the types of people that live in those areas, as many lack the leaders, entrepreneurs, bank lenders, and skilled workers needed for investment into the economy. This is seen as populations decline in the Midwest, the South, and other regions, and how young high school and college graduates migrate elsewhere for better opportunities.
In some of these areas, Levy’s strategies on local community growth efforts could be successful, and some are most likely in dire need of federal investment. For example, the Pacific Northwest is rich in opportunities for renewable energy systems, such as wind farms, biomass, and hydropower. These communities can utilize the strategies of sales and promotion of the benefits of business in that area, subsidies, as well as many more. In Vermont specifically, I could see a growing interest in the idea of local fresh food, which the state is well known for. In these rural areas, a systematic approach to economic development would help these communities thrive on making the most out of their special characteristics and their niche products they could offer. Many wealthier consumers, even in different states, would love the idea of buying more local foods, such as dairy and produce from smaller farms in Vermont that could go towards economic investment in those communities.
It is easy for the majority of the United States to overlook the needs of these areas, but I believe the people have spoken up and want to be recognized, regardless of other political issues occurring right now. It is important that we move forward in a progressive matter by not only helping the economy in the urban coastal areas, but by stemming growth and investment in the rural heartland as well, and planning for the economic development in those areas plays a huge role in the overall success of the country.
Levy, John M. Contemporary Urban Planning. 10th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2013. Print.