Cities – gravity wells that suck in people from rural areas

Small communities are comfortable, like a well-worn shoe

There’s a lot to be said for living in a small town – I know that’s not de rigueur these days what with the future of the modern world being predicated on the primacy of the urban centre, but I still enjoy it.

Not too long ago my daughter and her husband packed their bags and left high paying jobs in Vancouver for the wilds of Whitehorse and the Yukon, because high pay or not, their quality of life was not what they wanted.

Oh, the restaurants and entertainment were wonderful, but they were not enough to offset the burdensome commutes, impossible real estate costs and interminable traffic.

Newly-minted parents, they knew that they would rarely see their child awake if they stayed in the city. They left – to date they have no regrets. They aren’t alone.

Small communities are comfortable, like a well-worn shoe. You know what you can or can’t buy, people know you and will generally go out of their way to help with whatever you need.

When you are out walking passers-by will say, “Hello,” rather than give you a dirty look and scurry away.

You can become involved in the life of a small community without belonging to a monied elite and a working person can become mayor and a very good one at that.

You can go to a concert to see amazing talent and it won’t cost you hundreds of dollars. The great out-of-doors is everywhere and is yours to enjoy without a commute.

Small communities and their intimacy aren’t for everyone, but they certainly can meet the needs of many.

But small communities have been struggling in recent decades largely because cities, like black holes, are gravity wells that can suck in enterprise and people from rural areas.

There is no doubt that cities, metropolitan areas and even to a greater degree, megalopolises, are centres of wealth and prosperity when contrasted to the rural, more typically, agrarian regions. They take advantage of the scales of human groupings that allow for otherwise impossible enterprise.

Glamour also abounds in these conglomerations of souls and it is hard to deny the appeal of celebrity and fame. Still, regardless of their draw, without the hinterlands, the cities cannot survive, and maybe, just maybe it is time for the hinterlands to reassert ourselves.

Certainly in British Columbia, the average citizen of “the hinterlands” is not a barefoot, country bumpkin of some mythical past. The residents of rural areas are highly educated, aware of the world in which they live, culturally astute and as accomplished as any urban dweller.

We feed the cities the resources they need to survive and thrive, yet so many urban dwellers remain steadfastly ignorant of what exists beyond their direct sphere of influence. We need to change that understanding and that is done through education.

In truth, we need to trade on the concept of complementarity. We know what we contribute vastly to the overall provincial economy, but obviously we have not made that message heard. We seem to be ignored by both federal and provincial governments.

The resource and agricultural centres of the province, instead of competing with each other, need to extend a common voice and work to ensure that all rural communities are prosperous and that the urban centres realize our value. We cannot do that alone.

Complementarity means that there is a quid pro quo and the urban areas also need to support the rural regions.

Modern technologies allow us to bring health care, education and culture from the urban centres to rural communities, but the offerings are far too parsimonious today.

From museum exhibits and healthcare, to education and entertainment, we need far, far more of the cities’ resources sent our way. For that, we certainly don’t need to apologize.

Email Doug Thomson

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