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Rural Decline And The Endless City

— I grew up in rural America. My hometown had about 8,000 people. The Census Bureau defines “rural” as any place that lies outside of urbanized areas. Urban areas have at least 50,000 people.

Rural America is dying out. You may have heard that, but our latest census count backs it up.

Reporter Hope Yen has done a series of articles for the Associated Press about the 2010 census and the trends were seeing. Here’s one trend: Rural places hold only 16 percent of the nation’s population. That’s the lowest ever. It was 20 percent in the year 2,000. It was 72 percent a hundred years ago.

Central cities are still doing okay. Their population grew by 3 percent, compared to the 2,000 census. But the big winners were (you guessed it) the suburbs, which now hold more than half of the American population.

The growth and expansion of suburbs has created the American megalopolis. That’s being manifested in the merger of cities like Tampa and Orlando, Austin and San Antonio… maybe even Phoenix and Tucson.

This is no surprise to us folks in Southern California, where the only thing that prevents San Diego’s merger with LA is the Camp Pendleton Marine Base. We live in a nation where the countryside is emptying out and where cities have no borders.

All I can do is try to hold fast to the memories of living in small town. It was a place where downtown was walking distance, no matter where in town you lived. The silence of night was profound and the stars burned bright in the dark sky. The town had an edge where farm country began. You knew which one was which.

Endless urbanization has made it more difficult to know where you are. Here’s hoping there are still special places in the world, and that the small Iowa town I grew up in will still be there.


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