CIRS Blog about Rural California

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In many people's experience, California consists of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and the highways that connect them. In reality these urban centers make up only a fraction of the whole; according to the 2010 Census, geographically the state of California is more than 94 percent rural. Surprise Valley, Lost Hills, Raisin City, Mecca—these are the communities that make up "the rest" of California.

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(Curtis Silk Farms, Gathering Mulberry Leaves, Curtis Silk Farms, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1907 Courtesy of the California Historical Society)

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 100 California communities -- and more than 900 communities across the nation -- will lose their eligibility for USDA rural housing programs on October 1, 2012. Of the 97 California communities that will be impacted, 64 are cities and 33 are census-designated places in unincorporated areas. These communities are scattered throughout the state, but more than half (50) are located in the San Joaquin Valley (31) and Inland Empire (19). Not coincidentally, these two regions have been major magnets for population growth over the last several decades. A current list of communities can be accessed at http://ruralhousingcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/USDA-List-of-Impacted-Communities_06272012.pdf. The USDA could release a final list as early as August.

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Definitions of “rural” are not standardized – some programs use definitions such as "communities under 50,000 that are rural in nature," "areas of less than 2,500 not in census places," or "Nonmetro County." In addition to the confusing nature of the definitions, they generally do not relate well with realities of western states and mountainous topography – greatly impacting the eligibility of communities and individuals to access programs. The negative impact of these definitions is especially true for rural communities that have been experiencing inordinately high in-migration from other areas; growth not necessarily due to increased economic opportunity within the region, but rather from lack of affordable housing for low- and middle-income people in nearby areas.

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Jonathan London and Ted Bradshaw

 

This essay is based on research being conducted for a book by Jonathan London, Ted Bradshaw and Ed Blakely. Ted Bradshaw passed away before this article was written but the concepts and structure were developed in conversation with Jonathan London. In honor of these intellectual influences, this article is credited as a co-authored piece.

 

 

For those who care about rural places, whether scholars or practitioners (or, in the case of these authors, both) the inadequacy of analytical frameworks for understanding and therefore intervening in rural change is troubling. Alternately framed as an immaterial anachronism in an increasingly dominant metroscape; a victim of over-determined and extractive structures of modernity, capitalism, and globalization; a romanticized lost agrarian world, or an uncritical site of local progress, the dominant rural discourses provide little basis for satisfying intellectual or political projects.


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