Can urban and rural communities be successful without collaboration? - History of planning Part 2

Regional cooperation dates back to colonial planning and explains why planning should not occur in a vacuum.

As I read the urban context section of the “Principle and Practices of Urban Planning”, I had to reprogram my mind to remember that planning in the colonies occurred in a society and economy that was agrarian. Today, a significant percentage of the world and America’s population lives in cities. Statistics from the 2009 Urban Rural Areas state, “By the middle of 2009, the number of people living in urban areas (3.42 billion) had surpassed the number living in rural areas (3.41 billion) and since then the world has become more urban than rural.”  

The U.S. Census Bureau states:

“The United States has many rural areas. Seventy-two percent of United States' land area belongs to rural counties, but in 2014, just 46.2 million Americans (roughly 15%of the population of the country at the time) lived in these areas. In 2010, a total of 80.7 percent of Americans lived in urban areas, up from 79 percent in 2000. Conversely, 19.3 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas in 2010, is down from 21 percent in 2000.”

To provide context on what planning was like during the colonial period in an agrarian society and economy, the Principal and Practices in Urban Planning book states:

“There was not a factory system [during the colonial period], and most commercial enterprises were carried on in the home. Since agriculture was the economic base of the colonies, town plans often went beyond the built-up area. In Savannah, each holder of a town lot received a five-acre garden plot, located beyond the common that surrounded the town, and a 44-acre farm beyond the garden plots. William Penn laid out “liberty lands” and agriculture villages in the countryside around Philadelphia. Both the Spanish pueblos and the New England towns were designed to be self-contained rural-urban units, with several types of land holdings for individual and communal living. There was genuine regional planning, because both rural and urban land uses were subjected to integrated control. Considering the various types of land holdings and their different uses, John Reps concludes that fairly sophisticated concepts of collective ownership and communal land management guided the early years of these relative simple communities. In summary, the colonial town planning tradition was in step with urban development.”

Michigan State University Extension educators frequently discuss the interdependency of urban and rural communities. Our joint future: “Rural Urban Interdependency in 21 Century Ohio” draft report prepared for the Brookings Report examines the interdependencies of rural and urban communities in the state of Ohio. The findings in the report are very applicable to other states and really highlight some of the rural, urban and suburban interdependencies. The report states:

  1. The drivers of interdependency: People, goods and resources move along the urban to rural spectrum. Likewise, the problems and challenges that communities face are structural and systematic as well, meaning that one community’s problem in a region spills over into the broader region. Peer effect and spillovers inextricably link our urban across to the rest of its region.
  2. Shared fate: Underperformance is not just a problem for urbanites, but also for the suburban, exurban and rural residents that depend on these urban areas for economic growth and quality of life. If Ohio cannot compete on the national or international stage, communities both urban and rural (and suburban and exurban) will suffer together. Several factors illustrate the linkages between communities on the urban to rural spectrum, with the most obvious being the rural to urban (and urban to rural) movements of workers seeking out livelihoods across Ohio—in other words, commuting. But there are other linkages, such as use of retail, specialized services, educational instruction, and recreation opportunities that tie Ohio’s communities, functionally together.
  3. Interdependencies across Ohio’s landscape: Urban linkages do not stop at the metropolitan area boarder, but extend through Ohio’s rural areas. Far outside the cities, incomes earned from commuting to urban jobs help support other jobs in rural and exurban communities, such as for local retail establishments or rural businesses. To understand why many amenities and services, such as specialized retail, healthcare and entertainment, locate in urban areas, two concepts are useful, agglomeration economies and demand thresholds. It is the density of Ohio’s major cities that translates into our diverse and specialized economies not found in rural areas.

The Brookings Report examined the interdependencies of rural and urban communities in Ohio, but the report findings and recommendations are very applicable to other communities and States that are looking for ways to plan and have economic success in the New Economy. Many Placemaking and New Economy principles and best practices for physical and economic growth and development are the most successful when there is regional planning and collaborations.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county.  Contact your local land use educator for more information.

Related articles in this series:

Principles and practices of urban planning: Part 1 colonial planning

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