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SUB-PROBLEMS INCLUDING LEADING TO IMPAIRMENT FOR THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT IN RURAL AREAS

Small towns and rural communities vary enormously across the country in natural resources, excellence of locations between larger areas, and natural environmental conditions. There are numerous challenges facing these communities ranging from job losses, to population losses or population gains due to newcomers seeking a quieter lifestyle, to poor transportation and poor roads, to development of natural resources, to access to jobs, services and transportation, to inadequate health care and healthcare resources, to developers pressuring to buy farms and turn them into residential communities with people living on large lots and with inadequate infrastructure, etc.

Means of transportation for people and agricultural products can be very challenging in rural areas because of: long distances between population centers; steep grades and mountain passes; very serious weather events in open areas; multiple governmental units taking care of certain roads and highways but not others; the cost involved in road clearing, road maintenance, and new road construction; and the high costs of delivery of services and materials to small communities. It is very difficult to get appropriate funding for necessary roads and maintenance services. There are over 450,000 rural bridges, many of them in very poor condition. About 50% of rural roads are not paved. (See endnote 28.)

Area planning and zoning may be limited or non-existent and therefore urban sprawl can easily occur. Typically, gateway communities which are next to recreational areas often struggle with seasonal sources of income and demand for services. Resource-dependent communities usually have a single industry and if the industry is challenged or leaves the area, there is a huge loss of jobs and serious problems for the small communities. Edge communities are on the fringe of metropolitan areas and connected by state or interstate highways and may be overwhelmed by a sudden influx of people who find the area an attractive place to live and easily accessible to jobs in the core city. They are not prepared for the increase in population and face numerous pressures including providing adequate housing and necessary infrastructure, plus schools, police, fire protection, emergency services, water, sewage, communications, and energy sources. The traditional main streets of the small communities are usually compact, historically significant, and easily accessible to transportation but still may struggle to get tenants for the stores when they compete with office parks, regional malls, and big- box stores. Second-home buyers in retirement communities have trouble keeping pace with the new growth while maintaining an excellent quality of life. Typically, there is a loss of forest land, especially in close proximity to metropolitan communities. There is also a loss of prime farmland. Where the rural communities are a distance from the urban centers and the transportation network is not well established, it is difficult for individuals to get to jobs, sources of education, and other services which may only be present in appropriate quality and quantity in the urban area. (See endnote 25.)

In the stable areas, there has been a dramatic demographic shift to an aging population. With the nation’s population of 65 or older predicted to double in the next several decades, this will be the fastest-growing age group in the rural population. Low-income seniors may be below the poverty level and also lack affordable service options and housing options. Many more rural people have arthritis, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and mental disorders than populations in urban settings. This means that there are more disabled people who in fact are increasingly vulnerable to environmental pollutants. The numbers of healthcare professionals in rural areas are well below the amount that are needed to help prevent disease and injury, treat existing disease, and promote good health. (See endnote 22.)

The environment and ecosystems have also been affected by modern agricultural practices. There have been above-normal loads of phosphorus in bodies of water, which have increased the level of blue-green algae, for example, in Lake Erie. Another example is in North Carolina where the hog farming manure lagoons were dumped into the environment by a hurricane.

 
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