We cannot let requirements for scale and the efficiencies it entails be the stumbling block—the excuse, really—that perpetuates neglect of rural investments. So I’m calling for a new scholarship of rural America.
We need a Jane Jacobs for rural places, someone to observe and document, with care and familiar sympathy, how rural societies and economies actually work. And we need researchers to translate those observations into metrics and tools that capture how community development impacts play out in rural settlements. Projects could be valued for benefits that directly touch an outsized proportion of a small community—market penetration, if you will. We could value them for especially high significance in the lives of individuals and families, a kind of meaning quotient. And we could recognize that some projects, albeit small, supply a basic building block of viable communities anywhere—the critical-access piece.