By Julia Braulick, Carleton College Class of 2020 & Heather Luedke, Carleton College Class of 2020
Beyond simple geography, small Minnesota towns and the state’s urban areas have had different experiences based on their histories, lifestyles, livelihoods, and demographics. Current population trends are exacerbating these long-standing differences. Many rural counties have lost population--peaking in population in the 1950’s and 60’s--while cities continue to grow (Minnesota State Demographic Center). The different trajectories of urban and rural areas create tension known as the urban-rural divide. This phenomenon influences everything from Minnesota’s economy to its environment and hinders dialogue between individuals and communities. In order to move forward and solve problems, we need to reevaluate our perceptions of each other. We have to ask: what effects do these differences cause, how extensive are they, and where can we find common ground?
Urban and rural Minnesotans undeniably have differing perspectives, but a lot of the distrust between them stems from misconceptions. Even though rural Minnesotans often feel as if they are suffering for the benefit of metropolitan centers, this doesn’t mean small towns aren’t important or necessary. Additionally, even though metro areas are often seen as self-sufficient economic and cultural hubs, they rely on rural areas in a lot of ways. In reality, rural and urban areas are codependent. For example, a study done by the MN Rural Partners shows that if the rural manufacturing sector decreased its output by 6%, the Twin Cities region would lose over 1,000 jobs and over $200 million in revenue--and this is only one sector! As well, despite common misconceptions, rural areas rely on metro funding for transportation infrastructure and maintenance; over 80% of roads are in rural areas, and taxes from the Twin Cities help support their upkeep (Kaul). These economic ties aren’t the only examples. Minnesota is not only economically intertwined; we are also culturally and politically dependent on one another. The Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota need each other.
We are so caught up in this us vs. them mentality that it’s almost impossible to make any progress or to address the many overarching issues that affect all Minnesotans. Regardless of age, race, and income differences, both rural and metro communities face problems such as the environmental degradation, healthcare, and unemployment. These issues are statewide, and solving them will require cooperation.
Pollution is one of these issues. We all need clean water and air, whether we live on a farm or in the city. Understandably, these discussions are complicated because environmental efforts inevitably affect so many stakeholders. But because environmental issues have real implications for everyone in the state, regardless of where you live, it’s vital that we make progress. There are business owners, manufacturers, and families making their homes in both Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities, even if some sectors, like agriculture, are centered in one region or the other. Moreover, polluted water and air don’t stay put. The smokestack emissions from a factory in Minneapolis drift downwind to Zumbrota, and nitrogen pollution from a farm near Little Falls will show up in the Twin Cities. Not only are locals affected if they don't prioritize their own air and water quality, but people in other areas suffer as well. Conversely, environmental improvements in one area create far-reaching benefits in other communities. Therefore, in order to improve environmental health across the state, Minnesotans from both urban and rural backgrounds need to realize that, despite the pervasiveness of the urban-rural divide, they have a lot in common.
It’s also important to realize the differences between urban and rural communities can be positive. Each should value the other because their unique perspectives can bring innovative solutions to the table. Cities, the economic centers of a region, provide a level of sophistication, culture, and diversity not found in rural settings. However, small towns allow for a familiarity between neighbors and community members of different backgrounds in ways that are rare in big cities (Vogel). In a small community, people can connect to one another, nature, and food in ways that are much harder to achieve in city life. Cities and small towns are each uniquely equipped to resolve problems between humans and the environment, and among people. Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities can learn from each other, and oversimplifying and disregarding one another is counterproductive. Instead, people from all across Minnesota should be eager to learn from each other's experiences and leverage our common ground to collaborate on statewide issues.
Kaul, Greta. “Politicians love to talk about the urban-rural divide in Minnesota. But how much of a divide is there, really?” MinnPost, 1 Sept. 2017,
https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2017/09/politicians-love-talk-about-urban-rural-divide-minnesota-how-much-divide-the. Accessed 15 Dec. 2009.
Minnesota State Demographic Center. “Greater Minnesota Refined and Revisited.” Minnesota State Demographic Center, Jan. 2017, https://mn.gov/admin/assets/greater-mn-refined-and-revisited-msdc-jan2017_tcm36-273216.pdf. Accessed 15 Dec. 2017.
Searls, Kate. “Pilot Study: Estimating Rural and Urban Minnesota’s Interdependencies”
Minnesota Rural Partners, Inc., 2011,
Vogel, Jennifer. “Fighting for an American Countryside” Minnesota Public Radio, 2013, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/groundlevel/fighting-for-an-american-countryside/appendix.html. Accessed 15 Dec. 2017.