Becoming blurred

Over the next couple of decades, rural North America will undergo a drastic change.

That will continue a trend that already has been underway for years. Cities are spreading into the countryside, and of course that is affecting rural life.

In North America and in Europe too, the economy depended on “foundation industries,” agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. All three have been transformed by events. That has had a profound effect on rural North America.

Manufacturing here has been a feature of cities, but gradually it became scattered over rural communities; hundreds of thousands still work in manufacturing and related industries, still more than in farming.

Now, many of the small textile mills and machine shops are closed. Their workers, less persevering and more expensive and less hard working than agriculture workers, are seldom trained or educated to take up anything else.

This might have been less onerous if farming still could utilize these workers. It is not surprising then that ghost towns in Ontario, Manitoba and in parts of the Maritimes, now haunt the landscape.

The present miseries of some farmers may have been exaggerated. A significant percentage of farmers have gone out of business. Creditors, both public and private, turned them away from farming. The recent upturn in crop prices has entailed a surge in farmland prices, but that has deterred young people from starting out as farmers.

In the l970s and l98Os small towns attracted many “back to landers” but that has ended. It became apparent that people there had to work, perhaps at retail establishments, commuting to nearby more populous centres. Now cities are growing at the expense of these trends as the exodus from full-time farming continues.

Does this mean an inexorable exodus from rural areas? Not necessarily.

Metropolitan areas are growing outwards, blurring the rural-urban distinction. While many have moved back to city centres, they no longer are the fastest growing areas; nor are the suburbs, or even the outer suburbs.

The most rapid rise has taken place in “exerbs,” districts that are effectively in the countryside. Yuppies and the internet have become omnipresent. They still may play at farming, but they have transformed rural areas and will continue to do so.

Technology means that rural life is being altered beyond recognition, leading to an economic and political revolution.



Bruce Whitestone