Rural vs. Urban

It’s been a while since I posted on here because, frankly, life showed up. So I’ve been busy dealing with that and enjoying the life that showed up, even the messy parts. I’ll talk about that later, though, because today I wanted to get down on digital paper some of the thoughts that have been running around my head, and getting batted around the kitchen with my partner as I cook dinners. And those thoughts are roughly that we need to queer geography if we want to deal with some of the electoral, policy, and social issues that the US is facing at the moment.

By queering geography, I mean breaking this dichotomy of rural and urban. Yes, geography also has a third category of suburban, and even finer detailed divisions like industrial, retail, commercial, agricultural, and so on. Excepting politicians and professionals, though, how many people think at a finer scale than rural and urban, and maybe suburban when thinking about land use especially? This is particularly true of media discussions of geography as it pertains to voters. I think it’s safe to say that we are all familiar with the trope of rural voters and urban voters and how vastly different they are from one another. “But what does this have to do with a blog on queering biology?” you might be asking. Biology isn’t a silo, like any discipline, and geography is one discipline that has a deep connection to biology. Geography helps determine the physical characteristics of an ecosystem, which helps determine what organisms can live in that community, and those communities may at times influence the geography of an area as with ecosystem engineers like beavers or through succession community changes. As humans, we also heavily impact geography through clearing land, land use policy, building roads and bridges, zoning certain activities into or out of areas, and all of that influences the likelihood of organisms being able to continue to live or be be introduced to an area. Geography influences biology and biology influences geography. Seems simple, right?

Media often talks about a rural and urban divide, the idea being that people (especially voters) behave differently in rural areas compared to urban areas. One common example of this is that urban people are more hurried and harried than their more laid back rural counterparts, or that rural folx prefer tradition and “old fashioned” while urban folx are “trendy” or more sophisticated.

The fact of the matter is that folx is folx, y’all. And I’m going to let my country boy flag fly proud right now, as one of the big changes that I’ve been dealing with lately is relocation from my rural home to the Big City, where I’m building a new life with my new family. And let me just say that I was one of those people who believed that the rural-urban divide was a significant thing up until recently. As we’ve been settling into our new location, I’ve been surprised at times by the number of similarities between my old life and the new. Just for a few examples:

  • We have pests in the new house like we did in the old one, despite the lack of fields.
  • We have infrastructure problems (roads, sewer, recycling, etc.) just like we did at home.
  • Our local public schools are underfunded and not highly performing.
  • We have gardening, including community gardening!, here in the city.
  • Cell phone service is bad here like it was there, possibly the worst I’ve seen, and options are about the same as they were before.
  • There’s a significant drive time here, we’ve just traded distance for traffic.
  • People feel pressed for cash and pressed for time and just basically stretched thin.
  • There are community and larger parks available if you know where to look, but usually not in your back yard.
  • Drug problems are ever present. Population density makes it more obvious in the city, but it’s not absent in rural communities by any means.
  • People don’t feel well represented by their elected officials, or served well by their public servants, unless you’re talking about their buddy whose been at the same government job since the early 2000’s.
  • Public utilities like water and sewer costs keep climbing while infrastructure decays.

I could keep going on this list, but that’s depressing and why bother, because you get the idea, right?

The reason that I bring all of these similarities to light is to point out the shared experience of both rural and urban communities, and to help identify the commonalities of these two spaces. In 12-step recovery programs, one of the most important early steps in recovery is to identify with others in the program and break down that boundary of uniqueness that so many people tend to have, and which separates us from each other so well in modern life. When we think that we are different and see ourselves as ‘other’ that has a tendency to make us resistant to change and skeptical that a particular solution will apply to us or be helpful for us. By unifying the dichotomy of rural and urban into a single spectrum of geography, it should be easier to focus on the similarities and work together to stay in the solution to these shared problems as opposed to being divided and work against each other in a competitive fashion. Especially when considering lower income urban in comparison with rural communities, the similarities are fairly obvious and cut across a number of important areas of life like security, ability to provide for oneself and ones’ children, and the ease of connecting with resources and people.

In this case, the function of identification as a part of this shared rural/urban community is not one of individual recovery, but essentially a shared social recovery, or a renewal of investment in our communities after decades of pitting community against community and cutting of social resources overall. By looking at the issues in their entirety- infrastructure, education, cost of living, etc.- instead of the individual “urban schools” or “cost of urban living” should help to build coalitions, and with a larger number of people there is a greater possibility to get done what we want to get done. We all know that there is strength in numbers, the real task is how do we go about building those numbers. Breaking down barriers, or queering those topics, is one way to build solidarity and raise those numbers needed in order to change the lived reality for individuals and help to make the world a slightly better place.

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