Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Rural Urban Divide: Do you lock your doors?

The Royal Winter Fair in Toronto used to boast that this is when and where the city meets the country.  It is a good thing such opportunities still exist as many city dwellers have lost their connections to the land where most of our ancestors spent most of their time.  There is a feeling of superiority that each faction has towards the other, but too often misunderstanding hurts both.

Michael Ignatieff pointed out in a previous blog that he ultimately identified the rural urban divide as one of the most critical in Canada.  You can look at both Canada and the United States (really most other countries) and see similar patterns.  With increasing urbanization are we losing anything?
Read about Michael's view and more references to Haliburton:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/04/fire-and-ashes-by-michael-ignatieff.html

Most of my life has been lived in cities, mostly mid-sized, but my last two years of high school were spent in Haliburton, Ontario a touristy rural area.   I resented my parents for dragging me away from city life.  My city friends would sometimes complain about boredom, but they didn't realize the options they had that I didn't.  I went to the University of Guelph, primarily because I liked their semester system, but as it also included a major agricultural college I met a lot of "country hicks," only I learned they weren't "hicks."  Finally I got a city job and eventually ended up as a traveling salesman where I enjoyed working in small towns and rural areas. 

Paragraph added Apr 26/16: Some of the differences were one movie theatre with movies that had been shown in bigger cities several years before; a Junior D hockey team that became a Saturday nite habit,  a library that could easily fit inside a mid sized trailer; everybody seemed to know about everybody:

As a bit of a punk when living in Haliburton my brother Marshall and I used to watch the cottagers driving back home and thinking how ignorant they were.  To some degree this juvenile attitude was picked up from our peers.  We didn't appreciate that the cottagers did get a lot of enjoyment from the country and they did contribute significantly to our welfare. We knew we were different and of course there had to be some superiority that came with it.  Perhaps we were defensive.

What are city kids unaware of?  Food originally is not packaged.  Concrete and asphalt don't cover everything.   Of course today more and more kids rural and urban spend their time indoors, though I suspect rural kids still spend a little more outdoors.

A really peculiar phenomenon was friendships.  In the city I mostly had friends my own age and interests.  In Haliburton it was often the case that those my own age with reasonably similar interests might live a long way away.  I had never had to go on a school bus  (except school trips) and fortunately lived just one mile away from high school and walked it.  Most of my classmates came from different directions much further away and our friendships were mostly at school.  I found myself friends with those along my walk to school of different ages and interests as well as a few that walked from the opposite direction.  In cities it seems you can be choosier about who you hang out with, but maybe you don't appreciate that others are actually human too.

Coming from a city it was natural to lock our house and car doors, but learned our new neighbors didn't feel the need.  After awhile it seemed natural to forget about locking.  At the local high school dances you could find young couples "making out" not necessarily in their own cars.  As there are not as many street lights you get used to being outdoors in the dark.  This became unconscious for me, but was brought home by my city bred girl friend, now my wife who was alarmed when I casually walked outdoors at night.

Guns, at least in the country are normal for hunting. Most of my fellow students came from families where hunting was a very big deal.  Lots of businesses would shut down during hunting season.  You could feel excitement.  I was too far citified to understand, but couldn't miss observing (and keeping my mouth shut about it).

My brother Marshall and I noticed a preference for country music which at first struck us as being in a backward foreign country.  After awhile you gradually notice a few country songs that sound ok and then perhaps a few that hit home.  These days country music has infiltrated city areas and vice versa.,

I got my driver's licence at age 18 in Haliburton where the high school provided driver education.  I got used to driving the curvy hilly roads, but dreaded driving on four lane highways and city streets.  I did get used to city driving and learned that many city drivers were very nervous about driving on rural roads.  Many years later I found myself driving on similar roads that I used to enjoy in Haliburton, but this time in rural Nova Scotia near Windsor,  the home of Thomas Haliburton whose name was borrowed for the Ontario county and town I learned to drive in.

Many parents, likely my own, thought that moving to the country would avoid many of the problems associated with the city.  Drugs perhaps the biggest concern.  I avoided them in the city and was able to avoid them in the country.  Alcohol was very normal in both.  There were fights, but not common.

Today we live in a wired world and no one is far from the advantages offered by cities.  On the teaching staff at the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School were staff that some probably couldn't get a job in a city, but others who were very happy to live in the country.  I didn't quite make the cut for the Oshawa high school basketball team, but was surprised to see the coach switch to one of my Haliburton rivals.

My youngest sister, Jennifer was the only one born in Haliburton and her birth was one of the few times I visited the local hospital.  It filled its basic function, but was not much like what I had visited in Oshawa and more recently in bigger cities.  My father probably died unnecessarily because he wasn't diagnosed quickly enough in a small town hospital (not Haliburton).  Eventually he was taken to Kingston where university affiliated doctors figured out his problem, but too late.   This has squelched a former romantic notion of retiring to the country, but not the idea of it being a great place to breathe and enjoy life.  I am aware that modern technology is closing the gap between large cities and smaller centres where some serious surgical operations have been performed remotely.

The Canadian middle class dream of owning a home has driven many people to buy property miles from their job and commuting.  This often means living in a small town or even rural property.  For some this is an adjustment and many come to appreciate the benefits of living where you are more likely to know your neighbors and get some relief from city pollution.  As urbanization increases  and the population grows, commutes are getting longer in time even more than distance. It is easy to foresee that in the future only the well off or those that can eke out a living nearby will spend much time in the country.  Others of us are becoming conscious of our short term greed hurting the environment.  In the future I see more  people will be living in high rises and taking public transportation to work.

City life suits me.  I am able to walk downtown, to the library, to a very pleasant lakefront park and have many entertainment choices.  Within a short drive I have many shopping options.  I still miss the country.  I am no longer able to justify making sales calls in the country, though I do talk to lots of country dwellers on the phone and I will be at the Royal again this year to soak in some of the country atmosphere.

In one of my high school classes a teacher asked us how many expected to live in Haliburton after graduation.  Only two held up their hands and both had fathers who owned local businesses.  My father did own a trucking business, but I wanted nothing to do with it.  For most of us the jobs are in the cities and so are a lot of other attractions.

Politically rural areas tend to be more conservative than cities and the deciding issues could be different.  Each group feels their priorities prove their superiority.  It would be helpful if they understood one another better.

There still is a big difference between country and city living, but each have their advantages.  As time goes by the two nations are merging and both becoming more diversified.  I would close by saying we are losing something as we seem to be losing a little more of the country each day. 

An earlier blog in a strange way illuminates some crucial differences between urban and rural thinking when it comes to animals.  Rural people have a closer connection to animals that produce food and are used for work.  City people tend to get more attached to their pets.  I learned about this when selling tooth brushes for dogs.  The blog post has deeper implications for the rural urban divide.  Read more here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2011/06/rural-and-urban-contrasts-towards-pets.html

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