Not so idyllic

It’s a safe bet that most rural residents tend not to use words like “bucolic” to describe their surroundings, but urbanites who flee city life, chasing after visions of idyllic country settings, certainly do. Boy are they in for a rude awakening, as Martin Mittelstaedt reveals in Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Rural life often has a bucolic image of neat farm fields and undulating hills, especially when contrasted with the crowded housing and traffic jams of urban living. People flee the degradation of cities for the countryside, but when they get there, they find anything but clean, green open spaces. From sewage-spreading to wind farms and gravel pits to garbage dumps, many people in rural areas are finding themselves involved in environmental issues that almost never afflict urban dwellers.

Maybe the cities aren’t so degraded, and the countryside quite so idyllic, as people think. Who’d have thunk it?

The cheap land afforded by rural areas means that a lot of eyesores get dumped out in the countryside, away from the madding crowds. And then there’s the dirty business of the rural economy — resource extraction, agricultural practices — that can ick out a city-dweller. And, as the article points out, local environmental activism doesn’t tend to get any help from national environmental groups — rural residents tend to be a little more disempowered. I know quite well what local environmental activists had to do on the two most recent files — uranium mining claims and an engineered landfill that would take trash from all of Gatineau.

Rural areas generally aren’t rich; what urbanites see as despoiling wilderness or ruining an area’s “quaint” rural character — everything from logging and mining to opening a big-box retailer — country folk often see as gainful employment that can be kind of scarce to come by. They don’t worship nature; they have to live in it. So there can be tensions between the people wealthy enough to retreat to the countryside and those who are too poor to leave it.