The ReCONNECT Rural and Urban Impact Report provides a synopsis of the ReCONNECT Rural and Urban Forum and provides key statements, findings, readings and further steps for reconnection of civic engagement in NC. We invite you to read what we’ve heard and learned, and test out our “six recommendations” in your community. We also hope you will share what you’re discovering with ReCONNECT Rural and Urban program lead Sarah Langer Hall
In this report:
- The Divide That Mostly Isn’t
- ReCONNECT NC Communities
- Six Action Steps to ReCONNECT Rural and Urban
- The Wisdom of Connection
- Voices in the Crowd
- Connect to Further Reading
Concern about the urban-rural divide in the United States is older than the country itself. For as long as there have been villages and all the land in between, people have made distinctions between town and country, between the city and the farm, between urban centers and everywhere else. Yet all along, the things that bind urban and rural communities have been far stronger and more enduring. There’s far more connection than division. Those ties were on display at the Institute for Emerging Issues’ ReCONNECT Rural and Urban Forum, which brought together politicians, business leaders, educators and a variety of citizens who live and work across city limits. We met local food advocates eager to link agriculture and urban markets. Outdoor enthusiasts who want to welcome urban tourists to rural areas without damaging the natural beauty that draws them.
Politicians who represent condo dwellers and farmers within the same district. The diversity and scale of those connections makes any notion of a stark divide, or talk of “two North Carolinas,” seem oversimplified and out of touch. Changing the narrative to highlight urban and rural interdependence can make a real difference in how North Carolinians address statewide challenges like education, infrastructure, and conservation and the rapidly changing nature of work.
“Our perception and our attitude about our urban and rural challenges can impact our approach to rural and urban issues,” said Lee Worsley, Executive Director of Triangle J Council of Governments. “I steadfastly believe that North Carolina would not be in a leadership position in many national rankings and ratings if our mixture of unbelievable rural and urban communities were not part our state.”Survey data from the Pew Research Center make clear that the perception of a divide is much deeper than the reality. Juliana Menasce Horowitz, associate director of research at Pew, walked through a series of polling questions that showed both urban and rural residents across the country worry about jobs, about infrastructure, about addiction and health care. “In many ways, people in rural and urban areas share the same concerns,” Horowitz said. They also feel equally misunderstood. “Majorities in rural and urban areas feel looked down on,” Horowitz pointed out. “They think that people who don’t live in their type of community have negative views of those who do.” And they think people outside of their communities don’t understand them.
“We like to think in positive terms here,” said NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson. “We like to think about the connections we all have — the connections across our economies, the opportunities we have across the state, and the obligations we have to one another to build this state in the best possible way for all the citizens of North Carolina.”
As part of the ReCONNECT series, each forum showcases five communities that have developed creative approaches to local concerns. By sharing the challenges and successes across the state, ReCONNECT NC will spark greater progress and help innovative community leaders find and support one another. The Rural-Urban forum highlighted people and places that have bridged geographic divides and found greater opportunity through cooperation. The Institute for Emerging Issues will follow these communities over the next two years as they continue their work and offer new ideas to explore. We believe the insights and successes they discover can benefit communities across the state.
Alamance, Caswell, Chatham,
Cumberland, Davidson, Davie,
Forsyth, Guilford, Harnett, Lee,
Montgomery, Moore, Randolph,
Surry, and Yadkin Counties Project Empathy
Rural and suburban
communities in Transylvania
Durham, Orange, Vance, Wake,
and Warren Counties Growing Outdoors
Henderson, Buncombe, Burke,
Graham, Jackson, Macon, and
Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus,
Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett,
Hoke, New Hanover, Onslow,
Pender, Robeson, Sampson,
and Scotland Counties
#1 Examine Your Assumptions
Data shared at the Forum from the Pew Research Center reveals that people from one community type (rural and urban) perceive that people from other community types do not share their same values, look down on them, and do not understand the challenges faced by their community.
Think of one assumption that you have about a community that is different than yours and examine that assumption by reviewing data from trusted sources and/or talking to someone who can offer you a different perspective. Need a place to start? Review IEI’s Assumptions Document and ReCONNECT Community Snapshots Report. Share your findings at #ReConnectNC - - - - - - - - - - -
#2 Give Four
Overwhelming feedback shared during the forum was the need for people to spend time in communities that are different than theirs (i.e., rural, urban, or suburban). Your challenge: take a road trip! Spend four hours getting to know more about the assets and challenges in a community that is different than yours. Visit their museums, attend their cultural events, and chat up some of their residents. After your trip, share a photo of your visit and what you learned. We’ll highlight your trips at: ReConnectNC.org - - - - - - - - - - -
#3 Get “professional help”
At the Forum, IEI introduced five places that are doing remarkable work in connecting rural and urban communities to address shared challenges and leverage shared opportunities. They’re eager to share their experiences and offer candid advice. Take your pick: if you’re interested in learning more about how to have conversations that help increase empathy and understanding between rural and urban residents, reach out to Project Empathy. Leveraging tourism and the maker economy? Talk to Growing Outdoors Partnership WNC. Coordinating and marketing regional assets for economic development? Reach out to Carolina Core. Building a regional food system that draws off of the strengths of rural and urban areas? Chat with Project 40. Connecting young people to opportunities in high demand fields to bolster the economic competitiveness of your region? Talk to STEM SENC (Southeastern NC).
Carolina Core email@example.com
Project Empathy firstname.lastname@example.org
Growing Outdoors Partnership email@example.com
Project 40 firstname.lastname@example.org
STEM SENC (Southeastern NC) email@example.com - - - - - - - - - - -
#4 A day to ReCONNECT NC
Rural-urban reconnection is a key part of a broader challenge North Carolina is facing as we try to draw on our past experience of coming together in the toughest of times to solve the biggest of challenges. Like many Americans, we are losing our sense of connectedness. Regaining that connection will be the work of a decade, but we want to
jumpstart that with the work of a day. IEI and partners throughout the state are asking North Carolinians to come together and connect, to host joint activities between rural and urban areas or work on new connections, to take on community projects together, to launch or celebrate new activities across lines of divide, or to wrestle with challenging issues facing communities (see recommendation 5), or to launch or celebrate new connections.
We’re declaring August 14, 2019, as“ReCONNECT NC Day,” a day for North Carolinians to come together and connect However you decide to reconnect that day, be sure to ask media - audio, video, print, digital - to cover your inspiring reconnection efforts. Visit ReconnectNC.org for a list of suggested activities and tips on how to get your community’s story told. - - - - - - - - - - -
State Policy Makers
#5 Host civic conversations across community types
At the Forum, citizens, business and community leaders, and elected officials from rural and urban areas spent time talking with each other about the challenges facing rural and urban NC. We need to do more of that. In order to provide citizens an excuse -- and a context -- to talk with each other, IEI is launching a new “civic conversation” series -- where people are identifying important public policy issues facing the community or the state and having productive discussions without anger, name-calling, or other personal attacks. As part of the series, rural, urban and suburban community leaders should convene discussions to identify areas of mutual interest and work to identify strategies to address their shared assets and challenges. - - - - - - - - - - -
State Policy Makers
#6 Click and be counted Have You Entered Your Speed Information? Click Here
At the ReCONNECT Rural and Urban Emerging Issues Forum, Senator Harry Brown (R-District 6) and Jean Davis (MCNC) made a compelling case that expanded broadband access across North Carolina strengthens rural-urban connections, boosts economic development opportunities and strengthens educational outcomes. IEI agrees and encourages state- and local-level policy makers to increase efforts to expand access in an equitable way.
One critical challenge that faces North Carolina’s efforts to expand access -- existing maps of broadband deployment are admitted by all analysts to be inaccurate. All North Carolinians can support increased broadband access across the state with this user-reporting tool to help the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office identify pockets of unserved and underserved broadband areas around the state.
The Wisdom of Connection
Speakers from every region and every part of the political spectrum echoed the importance of understanding the “interconnections” of rural and urban NC during ReCONNECT Rural and Urban. A sampling of their wisdom follows. - - - - - - - - - - -
“A lot of the conversation and the dialogue is focused on the rural-urban divide. But we like to think in positive terms here. We like to think about the connections we all have — the connections across our economies, the opportunities we have across the state, and the obligations we have to one another to build this state in the best possible way for all the citizens of North Carolina.”
Randy Woodson, North Carolina State University - - - - - - - - - - -
“Look for the historic conflict in your communities. Find that radical middle. Walk that path together.”
Noah Wilson Growing Outdoors Partnership - - - - - - - - - - -
“A cure for cancer can come from any kid [living in a rural or urban community]-- we need to educate everyone.”
Dan Gerlach Golden LEAF Foundation - - - - - - - - - - -
“By embracing something as simple as empathy, and convening different groups of people, we create a more stable community — rural and urban — that ultimately supports greater trust, compassion, health, and perhaps even longer-lasting economic prosperity.”
Mark Burrows Project Empathy - - - - - - - - - - -
“Decision-makers, elected officials, and funders can make smart, coordinated decisions that lead us all to a place of greater connection and greater prosperity.”
Erin White Community Food Lab - - - - - - - - - - -
“We need to create a world that is good, where the goodness of your life is not tied to your zip code”
Dana Weston UNC Rockingham Health - - - - - - - - - - -
“We need to be willing to bust assumptions, put ourself in someone else’s shoes, be willing to reach out to a new group, travel around the state, and learn about NC’s history and culture.”
Patrick Woodie NC Rural Center Rural & Urban Forum Co-chair - - - - - - - - - - -
“Yes, embrace innovation, but also reinvigorate legacy institutions that were built during a time of greater regional collaboration and figure out how we can use them again to further connectivity.”
Jeff Michael UNC Charlotte Urban Institute Rural & Urban Forum Co-chair - - - - - - - - - - -
“Whether you live in Charlotte or Conetoe, we are all North Carolinians.”
Senator Dan Blue NC General Assembly - - - - - - - - - - -
“We need to treat broadband like we did when we brought electricity to rural communities.”
Representative David Lewis NC General Assembly - - - - - - - - - - -
“I am the product produced by the possibilities of parternship.”
Travis Mitchell UNC-TV/Public Media NC - - - - - - - - - - -
“[when it comes to opioid addiction]...If we want to change the individuals, we need to change the village.”
Fred Wells Brason III Project Lazarus - - - - - - - - - - -
“What if we were to flip the term: housing affordability? We all want to be in housing that we can afford.”
Yvette Holmes DHIC - - - - - - - - - - -
“[This is personal for me, I am a lifelong North Carolinian]...I’ve seen some amazing things in this country; but I have seen no place that matches the hospitality, the scenery, the opporunities and the goodness of North Carolina.”
Maurice Smith Local Government Federal Credit Union - - - - - - - - - - -
“Engage potential funders around your assets, not your deficits - communities often focus on the latter and forget the former.”
Karl Stauber Danville Regional Foundation - - - - - - - - - - -
“What I heard were people who are invested in the future of their communities. They had a personal stake in it, they had a vision for it and they were bold about where they were going. Philanthropy is a perfect part in those pieces.”
Jennifer Tolle Whiteside NC Community Foundation - - - - - - - - - - -
“Real authentic change only comes and lasts from real authentic relationships.”
Rev. Maria King Northern Piedmont District of the Western North Carolina United Methodist Church
During the ReCONNECT Rural and Urban forum, we gathered comments and insights from the participants in the room and those watching online. Here’s what some of them had to say.
To acknowledge the deep challenges facing different types of communities, we first asked participants to share what frustrates them about where they live--as well as what they love about it, in order to open a space for conversation about interconnection. We also asked what advice participants had for the ReCONNECT Rural and Urban community initiatives.
About my Community...
What I love (Urban):
“I love the diversity of the people, ideas, and places in my community that allow me to learn and grow.”
“I love the buzz and hum of the city and the availability of interesting activities.”
What frustrates me (Urban):
“Seemingly lack of connection between so many people. “
“Rapidly rising costs, inequality (benefits of development not equally shared).”
“Gentrification, “urban renewal” ideals.”
What I love (Suburban):
“Access to resources, lower cost of housing compared to the nearest urban place.”
“Access to both sides of urban/rural, diversity of thought.”
“Access to urban amenities and to open spaces of rural without living in either.”
“Neighbors and greenways/trails.”
What frustrates me (Suburban):
“Resistance to the “costs of growth” taxes, development, infrastructure.”
“Lack of diversity, lack of public transportation, lack of biking and walking routes, distance to jobs and events.”
“Commuting is taking longer.”
What I love (Rural):
“Quality of life, connections to community, the people.”
“How connected businesses are to the community.”
“Proximity to hiking/outdoor activities.”
“Grassroots organizing power and drive to do a lot with few resources.”
What frustrates me (Rural):
“Lack of access to high speed internet.”
“Lack of access to healthcare, especially
transportation to health centers.”
“Almost everything is two hours away.”
“Risk averse, don’t connect across lines of difference.”
advice for community initiatives...
“Commitment and perseverance, every time we burn a bridge we limit ourselves. Every time we build a bridge we open the possibilities. The communities need to embrace the people who come to help them. They need to make sure that their efforts will benefit the community, then give them the assistance they need to succeed.”
“Get out of your own space and explore other’s - realize how biased your views actually are and how off-base your assumptions may be.”
“Keep going! Keep talking! Keep involving! Keep the faith!”
“Raise awareness for these projects! Make sure the average citizen know about them!”
“Apply an equity lens to everyday aspects of the work to ensure that assembling power brokers doesn’t perpetuate old power structures and systematic inequalities.”
“Always offer the “opportunity” to donate or provide financial support at presentations. There may be a benefactor in the audience that you may not have considered.”
“Constantly evaluate where you are in the process and remember that your plans can be changed/tweaked.”
“Make it easier for communities to speak with the funders...it’s intimidating! Help us be successful in our proposals. If it’s not right for you, tell us...and maybe point us in another direction.”
“Reframing “affordable housing” as “housing affordability.” No matter your income, you deserve to live in a home that’s affordable.”
“People think that what happens in their backyard is true everywhere. Very hard to get folks to look at the bigger picture.”
Connect to Further Reading
A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.
— Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House (1969), as quoted by Mark Burrows of Project Empathy.
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In the Pew data, remarkably similar shares of urban and rural respondents say they feel attached to their communities, have face-to-face conversations with their neighbors, and value being near their families. They differ on questions about the harms or benefits of immigration, and whether whites have advantages in society that African-Americans don’t. But they’re nearly identical in their concerns about poverty, jobs and drug addiction in their communities. And they report similar levels of economic insecurity.
… Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, said a larger mystery is why we believe urban and rural places seem so different when on many dimensions they and the people who live there are not — including in their fears that they’re misunderstood and disparaged.
“If it is politicians tapping into all of this,” Ms. Cramer said, “it’s really helpful for those of us in the public to recognize, ‘O.K., a lot of this is being sold to us.’ It’s not necessarily the case that we are completely different species.”
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A report titled America at Work (the product of an unlikely marriage between McKinsey and Company and Wal-Mart), teases out eight different sorts of communities in the United States, including 5 different kinds of “rural” communities. One clear conclusion: it matters a lot whether rural areas are close to urban areas, which ones are rich in natural resources or have great views. Some are more manufacturing intense, some more agriculture-dependent. And the path forward for each of those places is very different.
— Wal-Mart. (2019). America at Work: A National Mosaic and Roadmap for Tomorrow. https://corporate.walmart.com/media-library/document/america-at-work-report/_proxyDocument?id=00000168-dec5-d9f9-a7f8-deed73c70001
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James and Deborah Fallows spent five years traveling across the country to identify communities working productively to address critical problems facing their communities, including rural-urban challenges.
“Until the country’s mood does change, the people who have been reweaving the national fabric will be more effective if they realize how many people are working toward the same end.” – James M. Fallows
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To challenge the widespread narrative of a rural-urban divide, the National League of Cities’ Bridging the Urban-Rural Economic Divide finds that stronger links between rural and urban communities are key to bolstering economic growth at the local, regional and state-wide levels. The report explores four key areas — broadband access, educational attainment, high-value business growth and prosperity growth. And the data may surprise you--not all rural is struggling and not all urban has the competitive advantage. The report offers several policy and program opportunities to bridge the urban-rural divide.
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