The natural amenities that often characterize the rural landscape, whether lakes and mountains or ruggedness and small-town charm, can offer struggling communities an option for economic development and can inject population and money into an area. Indeed, rural areas with natural amenities are some of the turnaround stories of the 1990s. The population in the retirement destinations in the Sunbelt, the coast, and portions of the West and Upper Great Lakes grew by 28% between 1990 and 2000, virtually all of that growth from migration. Non-metro recreational counties also saw sizable growth, especially where much of the land is federally owned. In contrast, counties dependent on farming and mining were the least likely to gain population in the 1990s.
Yet, as Richard Krannich and Peggy Petrzelka caution in their chapter in "Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty-First Century", relying solely on amenity and tourism-based growth can create its own vulnerabilities and risks. Without strong community engagement and a participatory approach that includes all voices from the outset of the planning process, rural communities can risk losing their sense of culture and community. In addition, simply replacing one dominant industry for another, rather than working to diversify the economic base, leaves the community similarly exposed to potential instability.
This issue brief is a joint product of the Rural Sociological Society and the National Coalition for Rural Entrepreneurship, a collaboration of four Regional Rural Development Centers: The Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, the Southern Rural Development Center, the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, and the Western Rural Development Center. Funding was also made available from the Ford Foundation.
This brief is part of a policy brief series by the Rural Sociological Society and the Regional Rural Development Centers that stresses the importance of community collective action and developing the capacity of people and organizations to meet the community's needs
The Rural Sociological Society and the Regional Rural Development Centers creates new Public Policy Issue Brief series based on its recent book, "Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty-First Century".
The briefs synthesize the context and substance of important issues raised in the book and address alternative policy options, with the goal of bringing important research to the policy community.