I live a double life.
Most recently that life has been spent amid a cacophony of rumbling trains on the elevated subway line outside my window, the din of car horns from the drive-through fast food restaurant below my building, shrieks from emergency vehicles, bangs and clashes from the construction work on Columbia’s new campus across the way, shouts from passersby, and yes on rare occasions, gunshots.
In contrast, I spent the majority of my life – I’m only 35 – in rural America where the audible equivalent to my current urban context consisted of insects louder than the 1 and 2 trains rumbling above Broadway, roosters and wild turkeys announcing the coming daylight, solitary cars on the highway just down what use to be a dirt road when I was a kid, the distant haunting drone of the Silver Meteor or the Palmetto passing through town three miles west, and, though with more frequency but less suspicion, gunshots.
Lately, I’ve been giving a considerable amount of thought to just how these two extremes, both of which I love for peculiar reasons, are actually two sides of the same coin. On Wednesday, May 23, 2007, that coin got a tad bit weighted to one side as scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia projected that the earth’s human population, for the first time in history, had become more urban than rural.
Even as these scientists urged us to avoid placing greater importance on urban populations in light of these findings, much of academia rushed to exploit and skew this information with untold numbers of urban studies. Urban had become academically fashionable in a way it never had been before. In actuality, we’re not talking about some dramatic shift; the United Nations estimated that by 2010, less than two months from now, there will only be a 2.6% difference in favor of urban population numbers!
This isn’t a zero-sum game. Urban and rural communities are not in competition with each other – at least they shouldn’t be considered that way. Rural communities produce goods and resources that are then processed by our cities for both urban and rural consumers. Interestingly, researches suggest that if either had to sustain themselves without the other, “few would bet on the cities.”
But there’s a dark side to this relationship between urban and rural communities. NC State and Georgia researchers concluded that not only do rural areas have more than their share of poverty and low education attainment, but they also receive a disproportionate amount garbage, polluted air, contaminated water, and hazardous waste produced by their urban counterparts!
Urban America, regardless of its newly established majority standing, can not afford to continue dumping on rural America. While one might go so far as to consider this immoral, I believe it’s just plain dumb. Cities need the resources provided by surrounding rural areas for their continuation. Conversely, rural America cannot be left out of the conversations that are going on across this country regarding infrastructure, sustainability, community empowerment, education, and the arts. It just will not do.
As I continue to discover the similarities and differences between my double lives, I look forward to sharing them and making the connections more mutually meaningful. Moving forward, it’s quite clear there can be no healthy urban America without a equally healthy rural America.