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Do the US need a new model of ‘ruralism’?

Do the US need a new model of ‘ruralism’?

Markus Appenzeller

It took a while to finally conclude who will be President of the United States from January 20th on. The outcome in the end is what was predicted. But that should not hide the fact that America is more divided than ever before. What was remarkable was that the uncertainty of the outcome made the reporting of the big news outlets focus on individual counties and how they perform.

Source: core77.com

On a closer look, there is an urban and suburban America that voted with 60 to 80 percent for Joe Biden and a rural America that did the same for Donald Trump. Let’s face it, there is a difference in every country between rural areas and urban areas and in a way that is a good thing, and we all enjoy going to the countryside and experiencing being outside the city for a while: nature, landscape and also a different mentality of the people living there. What happens if you turn the countryside into a residential area for urbanites can be seen in many places – from Connecticut outside New York City to the different ‘shires’ outside London. They become sanitized and domesticated versions of countryside where dirt and smells, cattle and crops had to make way for golf courses, paved paths and Labrador retrievers. Trying to urbanize the countryside therefore might just take away an essential quality that we cherish.

Source: wikimedia.org

We should revalue the countryside. In his exhibition and accompanying publication “countryside”, Rem Koolhaas and AMO show, how this countryside is in the process of transformation. These vast stretches of land increasingly end up in the position of servant to the cities – providing food, energy, ground for fully automized industrial scale production and cheaper labour. Profits are made in the cities at the expense of the rural areas. Public infrastructure is improved in the cities and the new jobs are created in there as well, while the hinterland falls behind.

It therefore does not come as a surprise that frustration, the sense of losing and the feeling of not being heard leads to the electorate embracing a politician that shares their feelings and voices them. This time, the personality of the Donald saved the US from accepting him for a second term as commander in chief but with a candidate operating more cleverly that might not have happened. If the US want to eradicate extremism and racism, they of course need to bring back the American Dream in general, but they need to also come up with a new American Dream for the countryside.

There are good chances to achieve that if the new government does it right. After all, dealing with climate change mitigation, energy transition, re-diversifying nature and a more local food base are all huge tasks where the countryside can play a crucial role. Cities alone will not be able to solve all this – they need to rely on rural areas, and rural areas should profit from this as much as possible.

  • Think of energy production: Solar farms can be placed in the countryside where land is available, providing electric energy or hydrogen that powers the cars, factories and homes in cities.
  • Think of climate change mitigation: Water from extreme weather events could be stored in the rural areas and provide a drinking and process water base for times of draught.
  • Think of improving our biodiversity and creating new ecosystems: Farmland can be more than just soil to exploit with monocultures. A more diverse kind of agriculture with smaller fields and a mix of vegetables and crops not only recharges the soil with nutrients, it also greatly increases biodiversity, reduces the need for fertilizer and other chemicals.

All this is possible, and it needs a masterplan for rural America that provides local communities and cooperatives with the resources needed: capital, knowledge and better public infrastructure. A special public bank that gives grants and low or no interest loans could provide the money needed. New universities and research facilities located in these regions could not only develop knowledge but also provide jobs and create a sense of local pride. Better schools, libraries and other public institutions, better public transport (or any at all) and better communication networks reduce or eliminate the quality gap with cities and put people in a position to pursue both, a career and rural life. Rural areas for too long have been overlooked and underfunded. That needs to end, and the new government needs to understand that the countryside is not an expense or a backwardly fly-over nowhere but an investment in the future – for securing and extending its own majority and for solving the biggest global challenge – climate change. Win – win!

by Markus Appenzeller

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