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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 distances.
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 pursuits.

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 solution.
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 will help.

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 fragmentation.

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.

The 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 of Alberta.
            “Every home deserves a treatment system that meets the intent of the SoP.”
Bob 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.
            Bob may be contacted at or www.

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