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Ask the Expert

What are some of the similarities and differences between metro, urban, and rural economies? Why does it matter for the community development issues you work on?

As appeared in the Cleveland Fed Digest's Ask the Expert

First, let me explain that a “metro,” or metropolitan area, represents the links between where people live and where people work, and it crosses urban, suburban, and rural boundaries. For example, there are people who commute between Portage and Summit Counties (Akron) or Medina and Cuyahoga Counties (Cleveland); all of these interconnections make up a metropolitan area. When we talk urban or rural, we’re talking more about how densely populated a place is.

One important similarity between urban and rural places is that both have high rates of poverty, though suburbs and small metros are actually increasing the most in terms of the numbers of poor. When we talk about a lack of resources and lack of access to jobs, mentorship, and social networks, we could easily be talking about a low-income neighborhood in Cincinnati and a poor neighborhood in rural Kentucky. When we talk about transit, we think, “Oh, of course it’s hard for the rural poor to access jobs if they don’t have a car.” It’s also hard for the urban poor to access jobs if they don’t have a car, especially if there’s unreliable and sparse public transit.

There are also really important ways that rural and urban areas are different. One is that many rural areas are facing population decline, which leads to a lack of next-generation leadership. For places that are losing population, it is important to think about how to build capacity and civic infrastructure.

There is a lot of interdependency between urban, suburban, and rural economies. In focusing only on differences, we miss the opportunity to see that we have a lot of shared struggles that we could be addressing jointly. In order to sustain economic growth that benefits all people, we need collaboration across city and county boundaries so that we can think bigger and longer term about our economy and its potential. There are efficiencies to be gained by collaborating. It’s about making sure that people can reach their potential and get connected to jobs that provide opportunities for advancement, and I think if we fail to see the bigger picture, that is much more difficult to do.

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