When Cities Prosper, Rural Areas Are Better Off

The pitting of cities and rural communities against one another is the wrong approach. Instead, policies that help cities thrive will benefit rural areas in the long run.
December 9, 2018, 7am PST | Camille Fink
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Johnny Adolphson

Nathan Arnosti and Amy Liu take a closer look at the relationship between urban and rural areas. They argue for a move beyond the idea of the urban-rural divide, a concept supporting the notion that bolstering cities means that rural communities lose out.

"Rather than see rural America as existing in isolation from urban centers, or characterize the two sets of communities as locked in a zero-sum game for economic growth, we should recognize that rural America’s economic success is linked with that of America’s cities," write Arnosti and Liu.

The well-being of rural areas is influenced by cities in several ways, they say. Rural areas benefit when cities provide more state revenue than they use, and states with large urban populations are less dependent on federal investments. In addition, cities provide rural communities and residents with access to economic, labor, and educational opportunities.

Arnosti and Liu say that strengthening the links between urban and rural areas is important. "In fact, one of the best ways to help rural America may involve helping cities: supporting a distributed network of economically vibrant small and mid-sized cities across the United States."

They advocate for economic planning at the local level—with a focus on industry clustering rather than efforts to attract particular large companies. In addition, they encourage policies that will reduce the economic gaps between urban and rural areas, including educational and training programs that prepare workers for the modern economy.

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Published on Friday, November 30, 2018 in Brookings
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