August 27, 2016

What Is Rural?

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Government agencies use a variety of methods to classify areas as urban or rural. A 2008 article in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Amber Waves identified three different concepts for how government agencies determine if a place is “rural”:

* Land use: Used by the Census Bureau, it identifies urban areas based on how densely settled the area is — the picture of settlement you get from an airplane. Among the agency’s measures: percentage of a county’s area that is rural, and percentage of a county’s population living in a rural area. The measures can belie public understanding of what is rural or a “small town.” For example, Kay County, which includes Ponca City, is defined as 98 percent rural in area but with 24 percent of residents living in rural areas. With just under 25,000 residents, Ponca City is relatively small.

* Administrative: Used by many USDA rural development programs, this concept defines urban along municipal or other jurisdictional boundaries.

* Economic: Used in most rural research applications, it recognizes the influence of cities on labor, trade, and media markets that extend well beyond densely settled cores to include broader “commuting areas.”