Rural? Rural enough?

The last 24 hours have been alarming to many Americans, including me. Forecasts that had Hillary Clinton winning the presidential election missed the mark, and Donald J Trump is our president elect. I'm not going to comment on them here or now.

We all will be investing time as a country in understanding what happened and what is happening. Right now, I believe that part of this has to do with a lack of understanding and engagement with rural communities. I heard it on public radio, and I see it online in various articles. I have experienced versions of it in my professional life (you have a project with a rural school district? Oh...well, maybe you should partner with an urban district instead to actually be competitive). On various occasions, I have been told I live in a rural place. Other times, that has been disputed. I'm not sure. I asked on Facebook if I blogged about living in a rural place, without judgment but rather in the form of observations, if that would be worth people's time to read and for me to write. I'm not looking for an ego boost in terms of clicks - I am trying to see if where I happen to be and the opportunity to be a conduit is some form of good I can do right now as opposed to other things. The response has been mixed - supportive from friends who seem interested in hearing what I have to say, but some skepticism that I represent rural America. I live in Logan, Utah. I'm a professor at a research university. I can't represent real rural life.

I hear those points, and I see where they are coming from. At the same time, I suspect we all have a weird sense of what is rural and if something is rural enough. It must be really really tiny. It must rely on coal. There must be serious unemployment. It must be in Appalachia. They must have a meth problem. Real rural is in the midwest, not in Utah. Real rural has no wealthy people in sight. Real rural people speak with a twang. Real rural people have only blue collar employment opportunities if any. 

That perception  is part of the problem. Maybe I can't represent 'rural', although here is a picture that made me audacious enough to think I might be able to.

Just a lot I drive past multiple times daily.

Just a lot I drive past multiple times daily.

More officially, NOT rural is considered towns of 50,000 or more people. (USDA classification, Census Bureau, others). Definitely rural is 2,500 people or less. That's what Wikipedia tells me. There are some other conditions, like population density and adjacency to a major city. We're 80 miles from Salt Lake City. It's not a bad drive, but it is a substantial one.

Let's get more specific. I live in Logan, UT. We are the "BIG" city in the area. Breakdown (from Wikipedia again):

Population: Estimated 48,997 (2014)
Racial composition: 83.90% White, 1.0% African American, 1.0% Native American, 3.30% Asian, 0.5% Pacific Islander, 8.0% from other races, and 2.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13.9% of the population.
Family median income: $33,874   

Other qualities: The university is a major presence and employer. The LDS church is a big presence. The majority of the population belongs to the church. That means you have a highly educated contingent that leans left, and you also have a big church presence that structures a lot of daily living.

Major food and retail outlets: 2 Wal-Marts, 0 Targets. 1 Sam's Club, 0 Costcos. 1 Chik-Fil-A, 2 McDonald's, 1 ShopKo, 1 Hobby Lobby. 2 Starbucks. 1 Michael's. 1 Joanne Fabrics. 2 Jimmy John's. 1 KFC, 2 Taco Bells, 1 Burger King, 2 Arby's. 1 Jamba Juice. 1 Old Navy. Some nice local restaurants that you won't find anywhere else.

Major annual events: A county fair and rodeo, housed in town. Parades for Pioneer Day (big Utah holiday, of great importance to the LDS community), and Parades for Homecoming. The rest is pretty routine. We have a farmer's market, library book sales, craft shows.

Are  we rural? Are we rural enough? Are the much smaller neighboring cities in our county rural, but Logan is not? If you spend large amounts of time in those tiny cities (where I do a good amount of my professional research) are you rural? If you live in one of those tiny cities but spend most of your time in Logan are you not? Do we make the cut off or should just pass as a big city? Who gets to decide?

I don't know. I don't think there is a definitive answer.

On my way home from volunteering in my child's school, in which she is one of 2 or 3 non-100% white children in her class, I pulled off the side of the road and snapped a few pictures. These are simply what I pass multiple times a day, because my daughter goes to school in the town just north of Logan (long story, not worth going into here). That town is seen locally as being quite a bit wealthier than other areas. They have some nice neighborhoods. However, this is what I drive past daily.

some pickuptrucks in a lot next to a house.

some pickuptrucks in a lot next to a house.

Barn and horse area in the neighborhood.

Barn and horse area in the neighborhood.

 

This isn't systematic photojournalism. I picked spots to pull over and shoot pictures. I'm not saying everything looks like this. Like I said, this place has some beautiful, huge and modern looking houses in swanky neighborhoods. We consider buying one. We have lots of golf courses (2 in town, one about a 20 minute drive away). I'm not considering taking up golf. I didn't drive through any of those on my way back from my daughter's school. The university is an important presence, and you can see that in these pictures.

Farmland and equipment in the front, barn behind, then some university buildings where they do space research in the back. 

Farmland and equipment in the front, barn behind, then some university buildings where they do space research in the back. 

The university's newly remodeled football stadium, named after a chain of gas station/convenience stores that are common in the state (and pretty nice as convenience stores - very clean bathrooms)

The university's newly remodeled football stadium, named after a chain of gas station/convenience stores that are common in the state (and pretty nice as convenience stores - very clean bathrooms)

And then there is politics. This area did not really care for Trump, but it didn't really care for Clinton either. There were lawn signs for local candidates, and occasionally a state official. Rarely would I see lawn signs for national office. This was one of the first Trump signs I saw, and it was when I was grabbing lunch. This is from a student residence building that the university owns.

Someone seemed to be interested in Trump.

Someone seemed to be interested in Trump.

Look, I don't know if where I live is rural, or rural enough. I'm not convinced a rural community in Georgia is more representative than a rural community in Michigan or if it has to be rural Texas that counts. Perhaps only Appalachia is rural, and the rest are pretend. Maybe only Wyoming is really rural. Utah can't be because it has a big church influence.  Utah is just too weird compared to everything else. Rural is this. Rural is that.

Whatever. It's an unusual place where I live but I don't know if a "usual" place is even a thing right now. At most, I think the benchmark for usual has been large cities. This isn't a large city. And  I do think many people who are here are among the ones who them felt disenfranchised enough to vote Trump. 

I don't have a punchline beyond the point that there are places that are not the big cities or those metropolitan areas all over the country, which we tend to call 'rural'-ish. I don't think we understand what rural America is and have just given it a simple label for a pretty complex mix of places and locations. That's probably what I am trying to say here. Large cities have lots of people and many real, very important challenges. The rest of the country just shouted out "hey, we have a lot of people spread out all over and lots of important challenges too". We should do a better job of understanding life in all of those places.

So that's my post. I'll end with a number of observations that maybe will get a post of their own in the future about life here if I get around to it. Some of it seems to me to suggest something about the way of life and why people don't feel like what happens outside of here applies to them.

  1. Many people drive pick-up trucks. Some have funny Calvin pissing on something vinyls, but mostly it's just a person in a truck driving.
  2. Very few people have Prius's or electric cars.
  3. Very few cars or people have signs of support for some pro sports team. The nearest is the Utah Jazz. For Football, it's the Denver Broncos. Really, most of the support goes to local high school teams or the university. That's what the bumper stickers and lawn signs say.
  4. There are some definite anti-Obama bumper stickers because the whole change thing was offensive to them.
  5. Church is uber important - so many structures and activities point back to church.
  6. Speaking of Uber, Uber isn't here. Lyft isn't here.
  7. One of the hot issues that was voted on was whether to let the county establish a water district, because there are concerns that people will pay more and deal with more government and the farmers and others won't get what they feel they should legitimately have access to.
  8. Kids miss school for cow vaccinations. All hands need to be on deck when that happens. Some of my daughter's classmates live on farms.
  9. You don't see boxes for the New York Times at houses. You do see delivery boxes for the small local newspaper.
  10. Guns are a big deal. The big sports store in town has big sales on guns and advertise a new AR-15 that's for sale. One black friday, the people in line ahead of me where there for a huge deal on ammo. The guy I spoke with was buying it for his wife, not for him. There has been little gun violence against other people in this area, although it's not unheard of.
  11. You can't get anywhere without driving. The city just doesn't have things located for walkers.
  12. Neighbors fly "blue lives matter" flags. At parent nights at school, there are always a couple of parents there in law enforcement officer uniforms coming home from work. 
  13. People have tried to ask about my ethnicity but struggled for the words. Some have said "I'm sorry, I don't know how to word this - um...what...where...this sounds bad, but what are you? Like Korean or Japanese?". They mean well but just don't have exposure.
  14. AM radio talk radio represents an important station. On the FM side, there are 2 modern pop music stations. One NPR station. That is all I can find. Maybe there is country but I don't listen to country.

There is more to say and notice, but from this I don't think it's bad or mean-spirited people here. It is a different way of living where the concerns that get talked about in the news aren't really the ones people here see as related to how they live their lives. I think. And again, I don't know if this is a rural thing or a not-quite-rural thing. It sure doesn't seem to be a city thing though.