Here are the words you don’t want to hear at the beginning of rural policy meetings:
“Before we get into our topic, let’s take a quick look at how we are going to define rural.”
There’s never anything quick about it. Hours later, after the last statistician, artist, organizer, or demographer has collapsed in fatigue, you might be ready to move on to your real topic.
Yet, for all the difficulties of definition, we know rural America exists, because we’ve experienced it.
The first thing to acknowledge is that defining rural depends on the policy context. Are you dealing with waste water, communications, transportation, education, culture, regional planning? Each policy area might require a slightly different approach to the definition.
Are you engaged in a five-year scholarly study or a 30-minute down-and-dirty analysis for a member of the press who needs the answer yesterday?
Are you looking within just one state, a region, nationally?
Are you expected anywhere for supper?
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