Book Review: “Rural Areas in Transition”

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Book Reviews are a new category of post on Rural Resurrection. As the name suggests, Book Reviews takes a look at books that have a rural subject, or provides commentary on a subject matter that affects rural communities. This Book Review is written by John C. Shepard (@JohnCShepard), AICP the Vice-Chair of Communications for the American Planning Association’s Small Town and Rural (STaR) Planning Division (@APA_SmallTown). John is also a Senior Planner with Marvin Planning Consultants in rural Nebraska.

Rural Areas in TransitionRural Areas in Transition

Rural areas—despite stereotypes—are as dynamic as urban areas. While there are places are lagging national growth measures, “by some measures rural areas have matched or outperformed their metro counterparts” write Norman Walzer and Christopher D. Merrett, editors of Rural Areas in Transition: Meeting Challenges and Making Opportunities, a compilation published by Routledge (2023).

Rising commodity prices have helped some areas. Technological change—in particular more widespread access to broadband—have led the trend of “work from anywhere,” and many people are choosing to work and live in rural areas.

“A generalized narrative that categorizes rural communities as beyond hope fails to acknowledge nuances…that point towards areas of vibrancy for rural areas,” state Ryan Allen and Ben Winchester in “Rewriting the Rural Narrative”, their contribution this collection. Allen and Winchester are with University of Minnesota Extension—Allen is also director of the Urban and Regional Planning Program. They have looked closely at raw Census numbers and find areas across the rural Midwest that are bucking the population trends. This indicates a “Brain Gain” as young families and retirees seek out small towns and rural areas. They are sometimes, but not always, returning to the communities where they grew up. Some of these movers are stepping into existing small businesses as the older generation prepares for retirement.

A Variety of Rural Issues Addressed

Other entries in this collection are equally informative, if at times a bit academic for the lay reader. These include topics such as:

  • Regional economic trends across the Rural-Urban Divide
  • Don Macke on evidence from thriving rural communities
  • Rural Federal Policy
  • Economic contributions of hospitals in rural areas
  • Rural nonprofit innovation
  • Social enterprises in rural areas
  • Building a rural entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • Transitioning small business to the next generation

This book is a compilation of academic articles, so the writing style is challenging. The reward is insight into how and why many rural areas are nurturing dynamic change agents. Its about technology, and small-town lifestyle, and playing to our strengths in rural America. As the editors note, “It is clear that rural areas have unique characteristics that can be strengths when integrated effectively into development strategies.”

Christopher Solberg

About Chris Solberg

Though Christopher Solberg (AICP) works in a suburb of a metropolitan area, his roots are in Red Oak, Iowa, a community of 5,500 persons southeast of Omaha. He has spent a significant amount of his career helping small towns. Through his time working for a regional planning association and for a private consultant Chris has helped numerous small towns throughout Iowa and Nebraska. Chris is also currently the President of the Nebraska Planning and Zoning Association (NPZA) and a member of the NE APA Nebraska Board.