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Saturday, 17 March 2018
How can we make Counties and rural areas more sustainable?
Toward a more sustainable County
As the years move along, almost every rural
municipality is faced with the problem of how to sustain their social
infrastructures. These include schools, churches and sports facilities.
They also include social support people,
like medical professionals, and social interactions, like 4H clubs and
recreational sports teams.
Every year more schools are shutting down
or consolidating into regional schools. Kids need to be bussed for greater
Villages lose their grocery stores and gas
stations. Everyone has to go to the “Big
City” to get supplies.
Can we stop and reverse this trend?
What can we do about to prevent the
depopulation of our rural counties?
First, we need to look at what is causing this
attrition to happen. Simply put, the cause is a lack of kids living in the
country. We no long have a critical mass of kids in many of our rural
communities. If you increase the number of kids in any geographical region, you
will reverse these trends.
There are any number of reasons why we
don’t have as many kids out in the rural counties as we use to but the number
one reason is corporate or large farms.
In the past, when most farmers could
survive with a number of quarters or maybe a section or two, it meant we had
several families with kids on each six or eight sections of land.
And this was reasonably evenly spread across
the country landscape. A little higher density on the irrigated lands and a
little lighter on the drylands, with a substantial reduction as we went into
the special areas.
This spread of kids throughout the county
gave a reason for hamlets and villages to have general stores, schools,
churches and recreation facilities. If there are enough of these hamlets, one
or two of them will have some type of medical service. Maybe even a hospital.
Kids are of course a product of the parents
that raise them. So with enough kids come enough people to maintain voluntary
fire departments and other volunteer positions that keep a county moving. Every
summer a few ball games are played because there are enough adults to make it worthwhile
in each small urban center. There may be a curling rink and an arena.
Without the kids, some of these will
survive. For a little while. Pretty soon you need three or four of these
hamlets just to get a ball team together. Churches close or combine with
adjacent churches and so it goes.
In this day and age, it is almost
impossible for a farmer to make a living on a few acres unless they are into
specialty products or into confined operations.
Also, they have much bigger equipment so
need fewer employees therefore fewer families are involved in agricultural
These farmers are very good at producing
food for the world, with some of the highest yields anywhere. Unfortunately,
they just are not that good at producing kids.
Anyone want to guess at their yield rate?
Maybe only one kid per five thousand acres? Maybe only one per ten thousand?
I don’t know what the exact yield is but
probably the long form census can tell us.
If we can’t get the farmers to raise a
large crop of kids, what can we do?
We can look at ways
of increasing other employment opportunities that will sustain families.
We can develop
hamlets, towns and acreages that act as bedrooms for the bigger centers.
We can understand
that many employment opportunities now include consultants and work from home situations,
which would work well in hamlets or on acreages.
We can look for
ways to develop methodologies that make it easier for companies that provide
employment, to relocate into the counties.
For some Counties that are blessed with
good health care facilities nearby, it may also be worth looking at residences
designed to allow aging in place. While this does not necessarily help county
sustainability the way a good crop of kids will, it might be part of the
When designing this type of residence, it
would be good to look a little further afield than your standard three-bedroom
bungalow with five steps leading up to the front door.
One or two bedroom, slab on grade, energy efficient
homes would be more suitable for this type of resident.
These would be smaller homes on smaller
lots and therefore a bit more affordable. Grandparents could increase the size
of our hamlets.
So how do we implement this? Really, there
are only two main options.
Increase the size of our hamlets and
villages or develop more acreages.
Designing and building larger self-standing
town-sites may help in some ways but are also problematic in others.
And with great care, sometimes developing
lands suitable for commercial/business/employment centers and industrial parks
Some municipalities have bylaws in place to
encourage the expansion of existing hamlets. The idea is to encourage growth nodes
and to cluster population growth in these areas. This should prevent farmland
Has this actually encouraged growth of these
small urban centers?
With the exception of some villages in
close proximity to large urban areas, most villages are barely holding their
own, many have dissolved and returned to County management.
Either the Counties need to get more
aggressive in finding ways to promote the growth of the hamlets and villages or
we need to look at alternate growth patterns.
In future articles, we will look at some of
the possibilities to promote a consistent crop of kids and some other strategies
that may make the counties more sustainable.
author Bob Boersema is a senior private sewage system designer, specializing in
small lots and difficult soils inventories. He lives in the south central part
“Every home deserves a treatment
system that meets the intent of the SoP.”
is also a building designer and contractor with a perchance for energy
efficiency. Not only does he understand the SoP but also has a good working
knowledge of all building codes.