Jan 29, 2020 - Politics & Policy
Expert Voices

Urban-rural partnerships spread resources beyond city centers

A wireless signal symbol shining over a suburban landscape
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Partnerships between urban and rural municipalities, educational institutions and corporations are beginning to create opportunities to address urban-rural gaps in transit, food security and broadband access.

Why it matters: The rural-urban divide, particularly with regard to broadband access, boils down to a mismatch in where resources are allocated, and these programs strive to distribute resources beyond urban cores.

By the numbers: According to the OECD, 80% of rural populations live close to cities.

  • Per the Brookings Institute, only 18% of Americans live in neighborhoods where 80% or more of the households have high-speed broadband.
  • According to the nonprofit Feed America, food insecurity affects 2.3 million households in rural communities in the United States, and 84% of the counties with the highest percentage of children at risk for food insecurity are rural.

What’s happening:

  • The Rural Virginia Initiative is a collaboration between several Virginia colleges and universities to bolster attention and resources for issues like health and health care, job creation, and education in rural parts of the state.
  • The Georgia Smart Communities Challenge is a technical assistance and funding program that brings together various government entities in the state, Georgia Power, researchers at Georgia Tech and more to distribute grants and resources to communities for smart city projects.
  • Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and Waynesburg University are collaborating to develop tech-driven interventions to address food insecurity and mobility in nearby rural areas.
  • Google has partnered with local universities, libraries and other organizations in Kansas City, Austin and Provo to close the digital divide through web access, digital literacy training and other community resources.

But, but, but: When projects move forward without community input, they can raise concerns about surveillance and data collection, which happened with Sidewalk Labs’ originally proposed smart city in Toronto’s downtown waterfront.

  • And not every solution is one-size-fits-all. While ride-hailing services have helped to fill gaps in the urban transportation infrastructure, lower demand, longer drives and inconsistent cell service make ride-hailing a less attractive option in rural areas.

The bottom line: Urban-rural partnerships can provide municipalities the resources in areas that would otherwise not receive commercial investment.

Karen Lightman is executive director of Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

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