Our society is becoming more and more polarized, not only politically, economically, and socially, but culturally as well. People are moving to extreme positions at either end of the political spectrum; economically the middle class is being divided into the upper and lower class; socially we associate with those who share our opinions, beliefs, or lifestyles; and, culturally, we have no idea how the other half lives and tend to be very intolerant of those outside of our culture. This latter point struck me with great poignancy as I traveled recently through several rural Indiana communities.
I have the unique perspective of living in two different worlds. I live and work both in an urban community and in a rural community. I have friends, business associates, and family members in both communities, even worship in these vastly different worlds. Thus, I can appreciate both the benefits and challenges of both and am a keen observer of their differences. While I have my personal preferences, what has always struck me is how little each of these communities knows about the other and how little each cares about the other, even though both are interdependent for their survival.
Most city folks do not see any connection between their daily lives and livelihoods and rural communities. They have the concept that food comes from farms, but really do not understand how the agricultural economy is tied into the economy of the small towns just outside the city limits. In addition, most urban consumers would be surprised to know that many of the manufactured products they use every day are produced in plants in small towns and rural areas of their own state. During my four county swing, I passed several manufacturing plants located on the edge of small towns that produce some of the biggest name brand products that fill the store shelves in large urban box stores.
Each time a rural resident turn on a light switch, they give little thought to where that electric power comes from or where it is produced. While rural electric coops manage local utilities, the power is actually generated in large power plants located in large cities miles away or perhaps even in another state. This is just one way in which rural and urban communities are connected
On the off chance folks from the city drive through a small town, they may see boarded up stores and empty streets and may draw the conclusion that rural communities are social and economic backwaters. Unfortunately, in some towns this is true, but many have thriving local commerce and an active community. Likewise, when rural residents visit the Indiana State Fair, they drive through some very economically depressed and racially segregated areas and draw the conclusion that the rest of the city is like this. The media coverage of crime in urban areas reinforces this impression. When, in reality, many parts of the city are green, growing, and prosperous.
The culture of these two communities is also quite different. The county fair is a summer tradition in most of rural America; and, even for those not involved in agriculture, it represents a time when the community comes together. Farm animals, fair food, and midway rides are part of this celebration. For the urban dweller, community gatherings often center around a sporting event like an NFL, NBA, MLB, or NCAA team. These often involve tailgating, team fan events, and even dressing up in team colors. Other urban celebrations may involve large crowds gathering for fireworks over the July 4th holiday or the lighting of a Christmas tree.
Urban and rural communities have just as many similarities as differences. Drug abuse is a serious problem in both urban and rural areas. Racial segregation and discrimination occurs in communities large and small. Lack of educational and occupational opportunities is an issue for both rural and urban areas. There are, however, problems unique to each community. For example, high speed broadband is an issue for rural areas and not so much for big cities. While crime occurs in both large and small communities, big cities have a significantly larger and more violent crime and gang problem than most rural areas.
There is very little communication between these two worlds, and that is unfortunate because each could benefit from learning a thing or two about the other. This would benefit rural areas more since cities have greater political power owing to their larger population. Urban areas feel this larger population makes them more important when, in reality, both communities are vital to the economy and social fabric of our country. Perhaps we need an exchange program where rural folks would go and live in the city for a while and city folks would spend time in the country. While both communities need to maintain their unique characteristics, our cities could use a little more rural and our small towns could do with a little more city.
By Gary Truitt