With the election now behind us, there will be political analysis for many months to come. What is most striking to me from the election is the divide between urban and rural areas, which is true for both the United States and California. Although this divide manifests in a vivid way through the election map, it is really a deeper divide that shows different cultures, values and perceptions. By splitting my time between California’s cities and the rural areas, I see this divide through both my personal and professional lens.
To help bridge this divide, let me propose state leaders develop a rural-urban connection strategy for the State of California that borrows from the good work that has been done in the Sacramento metropolitan area.
In 2007, the political leaders in the Sacramento metropolitan region came together through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) and the non-profit Valley Vision to develop a new platform for leaders to think about the region in a more holistic fashion. The innovative platform is known as RUCS, or the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy. In the discussions that led to RUCS there was an increasing awareness in the urban metropolitan area about the importance and value of the rural lands in the Sacramento Valley and the Sierra Nevada, and vice-versa. Urban leaders in this process increasingly came to appreciate the many rural values, including farms and ranches, as the economic engine for the region, the pastoral setting that urban people are increasingly appreciating as they live in a more dense and crowded setting, the birds, fish and other wildlife that grace these rural landscapes. Rural leaders learned to appreciate important urban values and markets that grace our marvelous cities. In all cases, there was an intuitive recognition that the region is unique, singular and linked together in many ways the region’s leaders are still discovering.
California has nearly 39 million people—projected to be 50 million by 2050. These people are all drawn to California by a powerful allure: an amazingly diverse landscape drenched with plentiful sun and the California dream. It is this broadest context—an increasing recognition of the amazing and diverse landscape—that underlies the significance of the RUCS process and the strong desire for the leaders in the region to more effectively connect the various dots between the urban and rural areas. It is also interesting that, as our society has become increasingly urban and disconnected from everyday rural life, that there is a desire among people and leaders in both cities and rural areas to build a greater connection—a rural-urban connection–that will be vital to California’s future as one state.