Right in the centre - Rural people already knew this


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

“We” have been told a lot of things that rural people instinctively knew were wrong. Here’s a partial list of wrong things we have been told.

•Rural life is not a good thing, city life should be our goal.

•Farming is not a good career.

•Bigger is better. Bigger cities, larger apartment blocks, bigger care homes, larger buses and commuter trains, bigger airplanes and  cruise ships.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, do you see a misleading pattern here? Just about everything listed above has led to an increased spread of C-19.

The bigger the cities, the more deaths. Larger apartment blocks, maybe not so good. Bigger care homes have meant literally more deaths, many deaths in some cases. Mass transit is a big suspect for transmitting COVID-19. Same with bigger cruise ships and airplanes.

What we haven’t been told is how good it is to live on farms and in small towns and not be subjected to bigger everything and overcrowded places. In light of the C-19 crisis, and the likely occurrence of yet another pandemic in the future, just about everything we have been told about community planning is wrong.

In contrast to what we have been told, rural housing is better. Rural towns are better. Individual homes, or at least smaller apartment blocks, are better than huge housing complexes. Smaller care homes are better. And don’t get me started on that urban myth about mass rapid transit, the money pit to end all money pits, set up to guilt all us car owners into submission. Maybe riding in your own car isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Social distancing, working from home, avoiding large crowds except for special occasions can all actually be a good thing. Sometimes big groups can’t be avoided, such as at factories, a hockey game or a social function. What we have learned about C-19 is that unnecessary crowding should be avoided. It has been said that small is beautiful and apparently healthier, too.

Why, after C-19 and decades of evidence about other social ills and problems caused by over crowding, would we ever encourage endless growth in our cities? If we are smart, we will cap the size of our cities, take a new, fresh look at our wide open spaces and seriously ask, why don’t we spread out instead of clumping and clustering?

Decades ago, the loneliness of rural and farm life was a huge problem. There are documented reasons why there were so many insane asylums in the mid-west plains. The isolation, wind, dust and loneliness drove people into mental illness. Don’t laugh, it has been documented.

But rural life and the constant isolation changed, something that many whose families left for a better life in the city fail to recognize. Travel became easier, as reliable cars and trucks replaced horses by the mid 1900s. Roads became better. Snowplowing became more robust by about 1960. Prior to that, roads could be blocked with snowdrifts for weeks. Rural telephones were universal by mid-century, allowing for help, solace and friendship to be only a phone call away. Hydro came to Manitoba farms around 1950. Water and sewage on the farms was almost universal by the 1970s.

So what’s missing in rural Manitoba? Why can’t we have people spread out and working anywhere in Manitoba they want to work? Six words. High speed internet and cell service. If we had proper internet and cell service in all our rural Canadian areas, a great equalizer would be in place. Political parties have been promising universal cell and internet service for decades, but now the Liberals are actively promoting it, as are the Conservatives. It’s about time.

Maybe, just maybe, we will slow the mad rush to intense urbanization and cramming more people into less and less space. Maybe if that high speed internet roadblock is overcome, Canadians could spread out. Dare I say, we might have healthier lives, communities and a stronger economy?

It would be nice if that much common sense were to prevail.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer chair of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.