#296. Trends Challenging Rural America Today

Posted on | The Agurban

The International City/County Management Association, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, recently released Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities, a report that focuses on smart growth strategies that can help guide growth in rural areas while protecting natural and working lands and preserving the rural character of existing communities. It is intended to show how smart growth approaches can be adapted and applied in the rural context, particularly in times of change.

We would like to share some excerpts from the report that we found particularly pertinent with our Agurban readers.

Trends Challenging Rural America Today

The land-based economy and its accompanying way of life in rural communities have been affected by a number of outside forces. While many of these changes have been gradual, others have been more immediate. By understanding the challenges that their communities are facing and thinking strategically about future growth and development, rural decision-makers can direct growth in a way that benefits the community while preserving its rural heritage and traditions.

Some of the challenges cited include:

1.    Few farms and fewer farmers – Since the end of World War II, farm consolidation and the transition of agricultural land into non-agricultural uses have been a challenge for many rural communities. With fewer farms and fewer farming families, the skills, traditions, and culture built around the rural economy are less likely to contribute to a rural community’s sense of place.

2.    Loss of forest land – The U.S. Forest Service estimates that between 1982 and 1997, 10.3 million acres of forest land were converted to development. This trend indicates a decline in the ecological health of rural communities, but it also means that the forestry-based economy of some rural communities may be in jeopardy and that the landscapes that have defined many communities are changing. Many rural communities are concerned that these changes may have a negative impact on tourism and their residents’ quality of life.

3.    Rapid growth at metropolitan edges – Across the country, the highest rates of population growth have been occurring at the edges of metropolitan areas, where suburban and rural areas meet. Such development consumes 1.2 million acres of prime farmland every year. These communities, due to their rapidly growing populations, may face infrastructure challenges and find it difficult to provide new infrastructure and services at a rate that keeps up with population growth.

4.    Shrinking population in other areas – While some areas struggle to keep up with growth, other regions have the opposite problem. According to the USDA, one in four rural counties saw a drop in population between 1990 and 2000, primarily due to declining farm employment, remoteness from metropolitan areas, and a lack of amenities like a vibrant Main Street or natural features.

The report includes a multitude of information that can be helpful to rural communities and areas looking for a guide to future growth and development. The full report can be found here.