A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

What is 'Rural' ?

This is a repost of a article by this author originally posted elsewhere in May of 2009

The Senate report on Rural Poverty is much more than that and has sparked so many thoughts about the difficulties that rural areas face that I will be talking about this report for some time. I urge all of you, both rural and urban, to read it if for no other reason than to understand the diversity within that designation.
One observation within that report said :-
Sending a clear signal to rural dwellers in all provinces means finally recognizing the obvious fact that rurality does not just mean agriculture and that it deserves its own place in the government's decision-making process …………..”

This brings me to the question as to what exactly do we mean by “rural”, a definition that even the Senators had difficulty with. They, for the sake of simplicity, split it into near urban, far from urban, and remote. It is of course much more complex than that, I think that we in Grey Bruce, as a “rural” area need to understand and accommodate these subtle differences that make up our population. It is the melting pot, assimilation or multiculturalism debate on a different level!

Here in Grey Bruce we do not have any “remote” areas (although I suspect there are those in some areas of the peninsular that may have doubts about that.) and so I will try and describe some of the possible types of “ruralitys” in our area and what may be their focus. Let us see if we can find a common goal or two where we can all pull together for the betterment of all. For the purposes of clarity I will refer to those outside of any community (i.e rural route mail) as “RR rural”, those in small communities with minimal services as “near rural”, those within small to medium communities with most services available as “small urban” and larger communities will full services as “urban”. You will see right away that just trying to decide the differences in these areas and referring to them highlights the difficulties in simply referring to our whole area as “rural”!

Lets first look at “agriculture” and other “RR rural” businesses, their size, needs and sustainability vary greatly. From the Corporate owned or controlled large farm or intensive livestock operations to the small family owned and operated mixed farming or market garden operation, to the service and supply businesses large and small that primarily rely upon “RR rural” and agricultural customers, they each have different impacts upon their surrounding community. Do they employ local residents, do they buy their goods and services locally, do the practice sustainability in both their financial and ecological activities?

Next comes the “other” rural residents, they too are a mix. From the retired farmer or longtime rural resident to the urban retiree or commuter, from those that have found work in the local community to those who need or want to spend their days in larger urban centers, from the cottage crowd to the conservationist, each has their own take on what is “rural” and what needs to be done to sustain the area.! A similar mix will of course exist within the “near rural” villages and indeed the “small urban” villages, but I would suggest that as the available services increase, the definition of rural to them will change, as will their needs and wants. Is water and sewer available, are jobs & groceries available within walking distance, do they need more than one vehicle (or any vehicle), do they own a property they must upkeep or do they rent. Here we start to see more small business, corner stores, craft shops and so on. Some may even want it to become more “urbanized” You can see the dynamics are changing.

Finally we move to the “near urban” and “urban” (yes, “near urban” is included again for the difference is not clear cut.) where both the mix of residents and their needs and wants can be considerably different from that of their neighbors just a few miles down the road, and yet we all say that we are living in the “rural” area called Grey Bruce. You perhaps now see my difficulty in coming to grips with the term “rural”.

So my questions to each of you is this :- What does “rural” mean to you? Do you consider yourself a “rural resident”? What are the things that bind us, and the things that give us difficulty. What common goals across the entire area can we focus on to improve out “sustainability” without changing the “rurality” of our area. Do we need, or want to, protect the small villages and RR rural areas from development or disappearance?

I sign myself “Rural” so you can guess where I stand!

EDIT – Further information added in 2011...

Statistics Canada has introduced some new nomenclature to the world of Canadian population data. 
From now on small towns and villages as small as 1,000 will no longer be grouped together with places like Ottawa or Toronto and be classified only as “urban areas”.    
Places with more than a 1000 people and a density of more than 400 people per sq. kilometre will now be identified collectively as “population centres” these will be sub-divided into three groups as:  
Øsmall population centres being those between 1,000 and 30,000 people;
Ømedium population centres being those between 30,000 and 100,000 people; and,
Ølarge population centres being anything over 100,000.  

Rural areas” in the Statistics Canada meaning remains all territory not meeting the two tests of greater than 1,000 people and with a density of at least 400 people per sq. kilometre.   
Further explanation can be found at Statscan     

Rural Ontario Institute says 'This move is welcome and should help with better interpretation of statistics the agency provides.  (This won’t really help in any way with the misguided government  shift to do away with the mandatory long form census that occurred this past summer, despite widespread appeals to rethink the matter.  That is still going to be a problem for people seeking to understand rural realities.)    
We certainly regard rural Ontario as more than just the territory being farmed or sparsely populated northern geography – small population centres are certainly part of what we see as rural.  When we look around rural Ontario we view a rich fabric of small towns and communities interwoven with the countryside and surrounding forests, we see the interdependence of our social, economic and environmental systems and the many mutually beneficial relationships between country and city.  We understand the need for categories but have the perspective that people don’t divide their lives so neatly and many rural folk, the goods we produce and use, as well as the energy, air and water we rely on cross back and forth across those boundaries every day.   

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