Cities and surrounding rural areas are highly connected and interdependent on a number of realms: socially, economically and environmentally to name a few. To succeed, cities in America need a healthy and sustainable rural economy and culture; and in turn rural America needs vibrant, well-functioning cities and suburbs in order to thrive and flourish (Dabson, 2007). Meaningful dialogue, understanding and collaboration is critically important when seeking solutions to issues that affect cities and nearby rural counterparts.
For example, agricultural land uses in watersheds that provide source water for metropolitan areas has become a major concern as of late. While it is a city’s responsibility to provide quality drinking and recreational water resources to residents at a reasonable cost, it is the goal of agricultural producers to provide food for America’s consumers, also at a reasonable cost, while bringing in sufficient revenues needed to stay in business.
Inputs used to increase food production – fertilizers and herbicides, for example – can enter the rural watershed and affect the city’s water resources downstream. The cost to the city of treating and removing nutrients and herbicides from their drinking water can impact on resident’s water rates. The loss of fertilizers and herbicides due to run off increases a farmer’s cost of production.
How can meaningful dialogue and collaboration between urban and rural entities be created around issues such as these? Is it possible to find common ground that can be built upon to benefit and meet the needs of all parties? In the scenario above, common ground may be that both the farmer and the city would like to see fertilizers and herbicides stay on the fields and out of the watershed. Dialogue and collaboration is needed to discover and implement the combination of educational programming, best management practices, incentives and other types of support that is most effective in helping these entities meet their common goals.
A recent issue brief published by the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) provides examples of urban-rural collaborative efforts through a series of case studies highlighting examples from communities across the country: Creating Opportunity and Prosperity Through Strengthening Rural-Urban Connections. NADO concludes that “in order to move forward, a national statement of shared purpose along the lines that if metropolitan America is to drive national prosperity, then to succeed it will need a healthy and sustainable rural economy and culture, and if rural America is to flourish, it will need vibrant, well-functioning cities and suburbs.” Finding common concerns, understanding interconnections, recognizing interdependence and building collaborations are key steps in building regional sustainability.