RADICAL RURALITY: IMAGINING MULTIPLE FUTURES BEYOND THE CITY LIMITS
Rural places represent the nexus of significant local and global transformations that will impact society through food, energy, climate change, migration, governance, and economic development - transformations that are shaped by the formal policies and informal relationships that continually constitute and reconstitute the structures that govern our societies. As we wrestle with climate change and the consequences of the global restructuring of national, sub- national, and local governments - and the increasing concentration of decision making power and capital in cities - we cannot afford to ignore the rural if we are going to find a new way forward.
So, then, it seems impossible to talk about the future of cities without considering the importance of envisioning multiple futures - including, and maybe especially, futures shaped in and by places that lie outside current urban imaginations. The rural/urban divide - messy and contested as it is - remains stubbornly steadfast in the ways we talk about technology, community development, and public policy. As such, this divide plays a critical role in both the conscious and unconscious processes through which we determine who makes it into the picture, and how they are represented, when we start making plans for the future. The digital divide is not just about access to technology. Rural areas do often lack the basic access to enabling broadband infrastructure that so many urban areas take for granted, due mostly to ineffective and underwhelming investments that highlight just how low rural communities fall on most state/provincial or national policy agendas. However, there are multiple digital divides, in terms of both capacities and capital, that serve to layer digital injustice over deep, persistent, and systemic social and economic inequalities. Further, there are rural assets and opportunities that exist despite, and sometimes because of, a separation from the urban. Imagining rural futures provides fertile ground for exploring how we might work around, through, and beyond the sharp edges of these divisions.
Tangible and intangible realities - from the spatial to the historical, the economic to the social - shape all places, rural and urban alike. Just as there is not one single urban identity, there is not a singular rural. Multiple ruralities create tension and diversity both between rural and urban places, and among differently-rural people and places. Rural communities deserve to be thought of as more than quaint weekend retreats for the wealthy and bored, more than merely productivist spaces for sourcing food or energy, and more than just an urban-alternative, but rather as complex place-based ecosystems in their own right. Problems arise when we assume that rural places are simply cities- in-waiting, runners-up in the global race towards an urban future. What we currently face is a failure to imagine and value what might be offered through a vision that accounts for multiple futures. It’s time to dig into the radical potential of the rural by leaving behind the outdated assumption that both rural decline and unchallenged urbanization are the twin-edges of some inevitable compromise. Rural places are not cases for experimenting with the policy equivalents of either palliative care or plastic surgery. Rural areas can be places of opportunity, innovation, and diversification, if diverse notions of place can be reaffirmed in new and different ways through thoughtful approaches that recognize the right to the city, but also the right to multiple futures beyond the city limits.