We’re outnumbered!

Well, “we” meaning my fellow residents of rural communities. I suspect most of the people reading this are members of the urban elite, so you won’t really care that today is the day when urban populations were predicted to exceed rural populations. That is, for the first time in the history of the world, a majority of human beings live in cities rather than in the countryside.

Now I don’t want to hear any sneering from you glossy depilated metrosexuals about us barefoot hayseeds reeking of eau de porc. We’re the ones with the low-traffic, low-stress, low-cost lifestyle and the fresh local foods who can still see the stars at night. And since there are now more of you than there are of us, I guess that means today is the day we have been promoted to the rarefied elite, and you’re the common majority.


  1. says

    We’re the ones with the low-traffic, low-stress, low-cost lifestyle and the fresh local foods who can still see the stars at night.

    My bet is that you have a lot more light pollution, noise pollution, and chemical-industrial pollution than you would have had 20 years ago… Also cancer rates (and accident rates) tend to be higher in rural areas because of modern farming methods. So… its not really that idyllic.

    On the other hand… our cities need to readjust to the idea that people actually live in them.

  2. says

    You’d be right. Agricultural pollution is some of the worst and least regulated kind — the rivers around here are festering sewers of phosphates and nitrogenous fertilizers, loaded with exotic herbicides and pesticides. You do not want to be downwind of a pig farm, or be anywhere near one of their fecal lakes. And don’t get me going on the shortsightedness of farmers who allow a century’s worth of precious topsoil to wash off their land to be deposited in marine silts in the Caribbean. This is a place that needs a strong regulatory hand to make sure it doesn’t turn into a Haiti…but the tradeoff, as mentioned in the linked article, is that rural communities are treated as the poor backwater instead of one of the treasurehouses of natural resources that have to be maintained, rather than exploited.

  3. June says

    Yes, we grow up in the country, then move to the city and pay premium prices for a view, a tiny backyard, some sky, some grass, even a fake waterfall. Then we move back to the country and bitch about the 2-hour commute.

  4. says

    Nine days until we leave our rural idyll behind and embark on a U-Haul journey to join the teeming masses of the metropolis! Woo-hoo!

    (Our metropolis of choice, though, seems to be fairly unique in its strong commitment to & support of the surrounding agricultural areas. Those delicious Willamette Valley Pinot grapes aren’t growing themselves.)

  5. richard says

    “..that rural communities are treated as the poor backwater instead of .

    In most western democracies, rural voters have more power per capita than urban voters (i.e. more seats in the legislature than their numbers warrant). The pollution you speak of is actually a consequence of that power; rural voters have been much more reluctant to support regulation of polluting activities. As you say, the impacts are as likely to be felt in urban areas as in rural areas. What is needed is a re-balancing of the electoral maps and legislative assemblies to reflect those demographics.

  6. says

    I hate that my fresh local foods can’t see the stars at night around here. ONe of these days they’re just gonna up and move, I know it.

  7. says

    Morris isn’t just a city, it’s a city big enough for a whole university! I’m replaying Civilization at the moment, and you don’t go squandering universities on Nowheresville.

  8. dogmeatIB says

    Hmm, I wonder where I fit in … I live in an unincorporated area that is only governed by the school district and the county, but I am within 25 miles of the downtown area of a city of more than half a million.

  9. moi says

    all i can say is that i love sitting on my patio, drinking a beer, and listening to all the birds. then hear the trout splash in the stream and see the muskrats on the bank. ahhhhhhh. then after awhile pick some asparagus for a quiche and bibb lettuce and spinach for a salad. i’m living large peeps.

  10. says

    You mock my awkwardly ambiguous phrase, Chris, you mock me. But my green beans love me for who I am and we will share the beauty of the natural world together, hand in stalk.

  11. bwv says

    Given that this is reflects what is perhaps the largest movement out of abject poverty in human history this is great news. The urbanization and economic growth of China, and to a lesser extent India is what is driving these numbers. People are more productive and therefore richer in cities. Although the average factory wage in China is around $2000 a year, this is 3-5 times rural incomes, where most people live on less than $2 per day.

  12. Mark C says

    Two questions. What is urban? What is rural? One can identify the extremes. It’s obvious that Midtown Manhattan is urban. It’s equally obvoius that RFD 3 on County Road 16 is rural. But that leaves a lot of room in between. The article mentions no cutoff. It seems that how you define urban says a lot about these percentages.

  13. Dianne says

    Now I don’t want to hear any sneering from you glossy depilated metrosexuals about us barefoot hayseeds reeking of eau de porc.

    Here in Germany, the einfaches Landesleute (simple country folk) sell local strawberries and asparagus at roadside stands…and drive away at the end of the day in their BMWs and Mercedes. Something tells me that selling strawberries at 1.50 euro the quarter kilo isn’t their main source of income…

  14. jeff says

    Get a big conversion van, heavily modified with all the amenities. Then you can have a picture-window view of the grand canyon, or party in the city whenever you want. Parking is cheaper than rent. It’s easier if you’re retired, or have a part-time job (like teaching :)

  15. bwv says

    “yes bwv but now china is one vast superfund site. oh well, tradeoffs.”

    Some pollution in exchange for millions of people getting out of abject poverty is a good trade in my book

  16. Tony Popple says

    The observation that more people are living in cities does not mean that more people are moving into metropolitan areas. Very often, it is the city that reaches the rural areas. The cost of housing has pushed the boundaries of metropolitan areas to the horizons.

    Many people won’t need to rent a U-haul to become city residents. They can just sit and watch as open fields are converted into Wal-Mart stores and housing developments.

  17. carlsonjok says

    Bah, PZ. You’ve posted pictures of your home and you are no rural dweller. Unless you can sit on your back porch drinking beer and answer the eventual need to pee without moving and without fear of observation, you ain’t no country folk.

  18. says

    I’m also wondering where the cutoff is between “metropolitan” and “rural”. I live in Portland, which is the largest city in Maine. But it’s nowhere near the level of New York or even Boston (some go so far as to describe it as an out-of-state suburb of Boston). So I wonder whether the survey would count me or not.

  19. says

    It’s notable that while this may be the case for the world at large, citydwellers are actually outnumbered by far in the US by suburbanites. Stupid malls.

  20. says

    Many people won’t need to rent a U-haul to become city residents. They can just sit and watch as open fields are converted into Wal-Mart stores and housing developments.

    Well this has certainly been the trend in the United States. My parents’ farm is now completely engulfed by exurbs. I suspect that the farm itself is no longer there–as it was sold a couple of years ago.

    There are a number of perspectives one can take from this urban-rural change. The global perspective is probably the most sanguine (exchanging rural poverty for urban poverty might be a good thing, but history suggests that pockets of urban poverty make great incubators for violent political unrest… combine this potential violent unrest with nuclear weapons… and, well, headaches ensue).

    But from a purely American perspective… this transition more about suburbs and exurbs and our changing landscape than our agricultural practices (which no one likes to think about–I guess because hay fever sucks and animals smell).

    As for the future exurbification of all rural-America… it depends on the expectations vs. economics game. With gasoline prices climbing ever higher, suburbs and exurbs are increasingly unsustainable. However, the American consumer has always shown a ready willingness to spend more money than he or she can earn–average household debt is increasing at a time when average household savings is at an all-time low. In the end, it is not going to be a pretty picture.

  21. says

    The Economist had a survey of urbanisation and cities in a very recent issue – a week or two ago. As usual for the multi-page special features in that magazine, it was very interesting and very informative.

    One point that was made abundantly clear in the survey is that the majority (large majority) of the world’s urbanites are slum-dwellers. Almost every city outside of the OECD worthy of the name “city” has slums. Vast, stinking, unregulated areas of extreme poverty, high crime, and infectious diseases. But people move to the slums from the countryside because at least in a slum you have a chance – a peasant farmer knows he will die, probably fairly young, as a peasant farmer, and that his children will suffer the same fate. The rural-urban divide in most of the world is NOT the difference between a cold beer on the back porch watching the wildlife vs. a short jaunt to the hottest club in town. It’s the difference between trudging miles for a bucket of water vs. the joy of shitting into a plastic bag at night so you don’t have to worry about getting robbed, raped, or worse on the way to the latrine shared by 1000 others.

  22. moi says

    bottom line people need to stop having so many children. i mean really. give it a rest! animals need space too. so many species are going to disappear in the next 50 years.

  23. bernarda says

    What is “eau de porc”? I speak French and I have never heard that expression. Maybe you could say “ça pue du porc”.

    In fact, pig farming is a major problem in the western part of France, Brittany. The “farmers” there throw millions of gallons with nitrates from pig wastes into the rivers. It is illegal, but the industrial “farmers” pressure local and national officials and politicians to do nothing about it.

  24. says

    As someone who couldn’t wait to get his glutes out of Filthadelphia and get back to somewhere that actually has rocks sticking out of the ground, low traffic, and (dare I say it?) friendly people, I still recall those famous words spoken by Jim “The Waco Kid” to Sheriff Bart in “Blazing Saddles” years ago in re rural people: “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons!” Not that it’s true, of course (morons are pervasive in all environments), but it still seems to be the stereotype… Sadly, my current residence is exploding in size and fast becoming a city…why, just in the last year, we’ve gotten a Thai restaurant and we’re on the verge of having a real bookstore, though the only place in town to get decent falafel quit carrying it…

  25. says

    Here on the left coast, our rural barnyard #9 parfum will take one’s breath away versus that northerner eau de porc,PZ. We also offer coccioidomycosis immitis as a kicker. If you’d like to know more about it, please go to: http://www.valleyfeversurvior.com

    Ya’ll come back now, ya heah?

  26. Bunjo says

    ‘Course once you have built up a town/city you can benefit from the more economic efficiency. You can afford to support an aristocratic elite, a warrior class, trades like telephone sanitisers and hairdressers, and of course a priesthood. Oh.

    Damn you smug country people.

  27. j.t.delaney says

    Criminey, who are you fooling PZ? Locally grown foods?! Is that how you justify it? Fercrissakes, you live in friggin’ American Siberia! You get local produce for… what, maybe two months out of the year — three months if you’re lucky? Sheesh; since the advent of the combustible engine, even us novou-plebian city slickers can do better than that.

  28. says

    I’m doing what I can PZ! My family just moved from a crowded Kansas City suburb to the extremely rural outskirts of a population-of-600 town in the Virginia mountains. Our whole county has but one stoplight, and a heck of a lot of stars.

  29. Interrobang says

    I live in what used to be a bucolic streetcar suburb that is now 10 minutes’ walk outside the downtown core of the fifteenth largest city in my country. I have a backyard, gardens, trees, and I can see the stars at night. The farmers’ market (with all the locally-grown produce I could want) is ten minutes’ walk away.

    I’m not getting what y’all are so nostalgic about, way out there in the sticks where you can’t go anywhere except for a stroll unless you have a car, and the major form of entertainment is people-watching at the Wal-Mart SuperCentre. I used to live in one of those places, and counted the minutes until I could get out. The people were nice enough, I suppose, but they were all religious and thought slower than they talked, which is no mean feat.

    (I do wish we still had our streetcars here, though, even if the local ones were incredibly stupidly implemented. A streetcar suburb without streetcars just seems…wrong. Also, I am an unperson, of the sort you can only be if you are urban in North America, since I do not have a driver’s license.)

  30. Ivor the Engine Driver says

    “glossy depilated metrosexual”

    I’ve been called many things, but that one is a first.

  31. JJR says

    Neither City nor Country dweller, but that worst-of-both-worlds, the mind-numbing hell of SUBURBIA is where I currently eat & sleep. I am eager to get back to EITHER the City (i.e. inside Loop 610 here in Houston) or truly out to the country…to a place like where my grandma used to farm (unfortunately that part of Missouri is starting to be infested by new mutant forms of suburban sprawl–it disgusts me to the core of my being; it ain’t progress in my book).

    Currently reading a lot of James Howard Kunstler on these very topics…I’m in awe of the man as a writer and social critic. Don’t always agree 100% with him (more like 95%), but he’s very forceful and passionate.

    Here in Sugar Land we have a new civic organization called “Keep Sugar Land Beautiful” (KSLB), which supports recycling and other good causes…my only objection is to the name itself; It implies Sugar Land had beauty to begin with; It doesn’t. “Keep Sugar Land Less Ugly” would be closer to the truth.

  32. says

    Don’t talk to me about stars. I grew up in Hallock, MN (pop 1200) and we always had those damn aurorae borealis and their light pollution blocking out the Milky Way. We had the lights of Winnipeg (some 120 KM away) to the north and Grand Forks 75 miles to the south to further add to the obscurity. The damn Sun didn’t set until 10:30. Try star-gazing with a perpetual twi-light on the horizon. Or, when the nights were long, it was 40 below.

    You kids don’t know how lucky you got it.

  33. Graculus says

    We’re the ones with the low-traffic, low-stress, low-cost lifestyle

    Also the families that have been marrying siblings for the last umpteen generations, the pedophile across the road that no one will report because he’s such a nice guy, the kids down the road that like to shoot at anything that moves (including your dog, even when he’s on your own property), the double digit IQs that think anyone that reads books is a “snob”, the assholes with various mechanized methods of terrorizing the wildlife, the guy that won’t keep his cat-killer dog under control, the good little sheeple, the complete lack of environmental awareness….

    Yeah, I remember growing up in the country.

    history suggests that pockets of urban poverty make great incubators for violent political unrest

    That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    The people were nice enough, I suppose,

    I found that most of the people sucked. I miss quiet, I miss darkness, I miss seeing deer in the morning. I do not miss the shitheads.

  34. says

    It’s not two places, it’s three. Urban, rural and suburban. Urban is great, rural is fine if you like that kind of thing, but suburban – and it’s close cousin the small town – just packs all the disadvantages of the other two into one hideous package.

    I live in downtown south central Osaka (metropolitan area pop. 16 mil). No, I don’t have much stars at night, and apart from herbs I don’t grow any food. I do have 24h service of all kinds (hospitals and clinics, groceries, restaurants, post office, book shops and so on) within a few minutes on foot, and specialized services (like 24/365 electronic and electromechanic components) within fifteen minutes on a bicycle.

    And no need for a car, ever. Most places I need to go are within reach with a bicycle, and if I’m feeling lazy, the dense network of subways and trains take me wherever I need to go in speed and comfort, with free time for me to read instead of having to drive. On the rare occasions we need to transport something we just contact a freight company, or bring it along in a taxi. Still way, waayy cheaper over the course of a year than actually owning and keeping a car.

  35. jeonjutarheel says

    I’m from the best rural farming area ever. We grow christmas trees! My whole county. Filled with fraser fir farms, the best smelling tree there is. I grew up in a century-old farmhouse that didn’t have electricity or running water the first summer we were renovating (which would’ve been…1990). Cable still doesn’t run the road and a mountain blocks the required path of the satellite, so I didn’t have TV. It was a rural as rural gets. Ah, Appalachia. Mind you, I escaped as soon as I could (boarding school at 16), and my parents and brothers moved into town four years ago (I’m sure the town would still be considered rural) but it’s not a bad place to call home.

  36. isles says

    I’ve been to Morris. You have every right to be smug. I miss it even now.

  37. Robert says

    What’s up! As for you “city-slickers”, enjoy it while you can. Probably, eventually, any shmuck with a homemade microbial WMD will put an end to the metropolis. Enjoy the institution of the metropolis while you can in this century!

  38. Laura says

    JJR, I extend my sympathy to you on living in Sugarland. Everytime I go there, I think to myself “Our dystopic future has arrived.”

    As for what qualifies as urban, back when I was taking courses on demography, the cut-off was communities of 2000. According to that measure, my bustling burg of 6000, 45 miles from the metropolis, is a city. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find communities smaller than that within 10 miles of a major city, at least ones that aren’t looking at their inevitable Sugarlandizaton, unless it’s a village that decided to put in a regional landfill. That seems to keep the population light.

  39. jomega says

    Re. “eau de porc”:I haven’t had any dealings with the French in a few years, but if I’m not mistaken, that translates to something like “Water of pig.” Now, my dealings with pigs go back quite a bit farther, but I do recall them as being surprisingly fastidious in their bathroom habits compared to most livestock, so if you smell like pig piss, you should probably try to be more careful.

    …and stars- I live in a big, festering, over-lit pile of concrete now, but I remember stars. I’m glad to hear the’re still out there.