Rurals a Disaster in Slow Motion

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 12, 2007

Rural exurbia is broken. From a depressing Newsweek article:

Fannie Charles, 46, lives six miles from the nearest grocery store in rural Orangeburg County, S.C. She doesn't own a car, so she pushes a cart along the side of the highway. (There are no sidewalks.)

It's difficult, since she weighs 240 pounds and suffers from asthma and type 2 diabetes. That's why she usually goes only once a month. About once a week she supplements her grocery-store purchases with pricier, less healthy food from the convenience store, just a mile and a half away.

At both places she forgoes fruits and leafy greens. "They're too expensive," she says. Skim milk is often unavailable. "I get the whole milk, or I'll get a little can of Carnation evaporated," she says. Though she often worries about going hungry, she is obese. "I'm stressed. That's why I'm eating a lot," she says. "And I've got to eat what I have."

Total car dependence plus industrial food and big box retail minus actual neighbourhoods, family farming or even gardening equals an ecological and public health disaster in slow motion.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 13:50:31

Ironic that there is still a romantic notion of rural community, when in reality the car killed it long ago and the nearest thing to small town feel happens in dense neighbourhoods of large cities.

I think the best indicator of community health, corrected for income, is how little you use a car. Likely a much better predictor than any geographic classification.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 13, 2007 at 10:18:46

Ted, I take issue with that. I grew up in a small rural community and lived in it for 18 years. My parents still live there and although it's getting bigger it still hasn't lost it's small town feel. Perhaps you need to get out more?

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 13, 2007 at 11:29:27

In fact Frank, so did I, and so did I, and my Mom still lives there, and it's getting bigger and it has very much lost that small town feel, all the downtown stores are either closed or hurting badly but Wal Mart and TIm's on the highway are rocking. Hardly anyone walks anymore, you can't have a conversation in the fancy new town park for the roar of traffic. For the record I've lived and worked in over 20 Ontario towns, most of them small. I still stand by the theory that car culture = death of community, regardless of the size of the town.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 13, 2007 at 15:44:39

Sorry about your town. I think the common element would be your living in them. Or your leaving them. haha, just kidding. I don't think that car culture equals death of a community. I think that growth, unless properly constructed equals death. As a city gets larger, it's nearly impossible to maintain a community feel unless the city is built properly. It's not cars that are the problem, it's the gov't in place. Also, I like my car, it gives me the ability to take home more than one bag of groceries from the store. I'd say that the reason I need my car is because of big box development.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 13, 2007 at 21:29:50

Frank, it is time that you did a piece for RTH.

It would be perfect if you could profile your home town, and how it has maintained its sense of community under the pressures of car culture.

If the MIP plan goes big box, I will be looking for such a place to move to.

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By trey (registered) | Posted December 20, 2007 at 11:43:11

Ted you just described Caledonia.

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