Thursday, September 21, 2017

How Wisconsonites (and probably people in other states) commute across the rural-urban spectrum

We're used to thinking about populations as either rural or urban, or, if pressed, suburban and small-town too. But new research from the University of Wisconsin Applied Population Laboratory examines how seven types of communities on the rural-urban continuum are connected by the people who commute from one to the other for work. "Every day, many residents of big cities, small towns and the countryside alike travel between their homes and workplaces, sometimes within their own community, and other times traveling over long distances to places that are far apart. Their commuting patterns can help shed light on the ways these places are alike and distinct in terms of their economies and identities," Malia Jones reports for WisContext, a multimedia news and information project funded by the university. The patterns found in Wisconsin are likely echoed in other states as well.

Deciding whether a community is rural or urban can be complicated, so the Applied Population Lab used the Department of Agriculture's Rural-Urban Commuting Area Codes, which divide populations into seven categories along the rural-urban spectrum, based on census data. The results of the research can be seen on this breathtaking chord diagram (click here to use the interactive version):

Static image of interactive map by Caitlin McKown of WisContext
Click on the image to enlarge it; click here for the interactive version.
Most commuters are heading for cities, which is unsurprising, but is interesting to see quantified. And it has broader implications: "People who live in one place but work in another routinely access goods and services and make social connections across both. For example, commuters from isolated rural places may not have access to a grocery store near their home, but may have better access to one near their place of work. The lack of reliable grocery stores in sparsely settled areas is a type of food desert. This problem arises in part because many grocery stores depend on a large number of customers, which can be hard to attract in rural places where there are fewer people per square mile. For commuters from rural places, shopping at a market near work not only offers improved food options, but also creates an economic bond across places as these businesses depend on far-flung customers for their revenue," Jones reports.

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