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12 Fascinating Women Discussing Rural+Urban

This blog is about a return to dense, walkable city living (albeit on a small scale) and micro-urban revitalization through independent business building.

Or, “micro biz in micropolitans” if you like shorthand.

And fun.

It’s also about living your own dream.
(Mine was to start a business. Yours?)

Interest in creative entrepreneurship in our oft-overlooked micropolitans put me on a search. There are plenty of people interested in the broader topic of revitalization: city planners, architects, landscape architects, entrepreneurs, economic development offices, wannabe politicians, etc….

But who is discussing the intersection of rural+urban? Trends at the heart of lifestyle+joy?

Here are a dozen that may just inspire you, too.

In alphabetical order…

Jennifer Brooks - Rurban Fringe

Jennifer Brooks, The Ruburan Fringe

Jennifer recently left the Community Futures of Canada and moving—literally and figuratively. Where will she end up next? Readers will have to wait until after the summer  to find out. Jennifer is described as a advocate for rural-urban fringe issues. Fringe=good, in my book, so long as it isn’t associated with a buckskin jacket.

Why I Like Her: Jennifer’s blog covers a little bit of everything: economic development, community development, entrepreneurship. Also, I am working on the assumption that she won’t be fussy about her photo, which is blown up to fit my template. Thanks, Jennifer! (I’d probably be fussy, but that’s just because I’m stupidly vain and judgmental. See note about buckskin jacket.)

Sarah Goodyear – writer, Atlantic Cities, Grist - @Buttermilk1

Sarah Goodyear, transportation writer

When is a Brooklyn-based, transportation writer writing about rural issues? When it is increasingly clear that urban centers of all sizes (even the smallest ones) need to rethink how our public spaces are built and how they function. Enter, Sarah Goodyear. She covers the ill-effects of urban development centered around cars, our nation’s walkability, and how these issues influence civic/commercial life.

Why I Like Her: Sarah’s writing reminds me why it is so important to advocate for our existing walkable, bikeable places (e.g., many micropolitans) and demand support for revitalizing them. Clearly, it is more appealing to be an indie micro biz owner on a street people actually use.

Read Sarah’s posts, The Sad Evolution of the Strip Mall and The Junk Food Attitude Toward Place to get started. The former looks briefly at how our car-centric streetscapes shaped commerce. The latter talks about the invisibility of places we encounter everyday: parking lots. Parking lots are a good proxy for “Generica” in general. She writes,

But it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the acres and acres of this country that have been turned into the ubiquitous nowhere of parking lots and boxy buildings. A few days of driving around South Florida is a good reminder of the scale of the problem we face. As much as we might like to think that what happens in the parking lot and in the Publix and on the freeway is just what we do on the way to our real lives and our real places, that isn’t so. Just like eating a bag of potato chips on the couch, this stuff changes us. This is our life. These are our places.

What are we going to do about it?

Kristen Jeffers – Black Urbanist - @KristenEJ

Kristen Jeffers, The Black Urbanist

I met Kristen last year at CityWorks(x)po in Roanoke, Virginia. What a treat!

Why I Like Her: Kristen holds a masters degree in Public Affairs. She shares her knowledge warmly and brightly personal way about her small city, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Her first e-book, Killing the Civic Inferiority Complex was released in May of 2012. In it:

So How Do We Kill Civic The Inferiority Complex?

  • Remember the unknown lights
  • Promote your unknown lights
  • [...]
  • Stop over-comparing to the point of despair [emphasis added]

Since “public affairs” issues can be largely invisible to the layperson, Kristen’s writing offers a personal glimpse into how and why place matters.

Micro business owners, take note: you may become fascinated by such things once you realize how geography and placemaking can influence your business!

P.S.: Check out Kristen’s guest post Why ‘Rural Urbanism’ is Not an Oxymoron and a recent post on her own site that I like called Identity Crisis: When Your Suburb is Really a Town (hear that, NOVA? You need to embrace your urbanism and become more micropolitan-ish!)

Jennifer Jensen – Rural Futures Lab - @rupricenter

Jennifer Jensen, Rural Futures Lab

Jennifer Jensen is one of three principals of The Rural Futures Lab (RFL). RFL is a center within the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) housed at the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri. RFL’s stated purpose is, “to create a new future-oriented narrative for rural America.”

Why I Like Her: Jen is on the lookout for new and interesting ideas that shape rural America, and yes, urbanity is part of that discussion. She treats an academic topic from a real-world perspective.

Jen organizes the multi-contributor blog. Contact her if you’d like to contribute your thoughts to the RFL blog. Here’s my post about urban escapees.


Niki King & Beth Newberry – The Hillville@thehillville

Beth Newberry and Niki King, The Hillville

Niki King (at right) and Beth Newberry (at left) co-publish The HillVille, the online magazine of urban Appalachia. Urban? Appalachia? Those words aren’t frequently used together and yet in reality Appalachia has plenty of urbanity. These ladies were featured in The Atlantic and have grown a thoughtful blog.

Why I Like Them: I like that their site celebrates the diversity of Appalachia past and present. Few other sites celebrate this region and knit together the “Appalachian” experience/perspective across multiple ethnic and religious groups. It’s a great site to start exploring Appalachian identity, especially as it relates to rural/urban intersections.

Also, they featured me in an early issue, so of course I think that’s rad. (If anyone, Applachian or not, uses that word anymore, ha!)

Jesse Knadler

Jesse Knadler, Rurally Screwe

Jesse Knadler – Rurally Screwed@rurallyscrewed

I discovered Jesse Knadler when someone came into our shop and raved about her cooking classes. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been annoying except a) I can’t cook a thing, b) this person came in on the wrong side of a Saturday morning to remind of this inability, and c) wouldn’t shut up about her.

Who was this Jesse person? Then I read her blog. It is so good.

Jesse is the glamourous off-grid, city-girl-turned-farmer urban escapee, and yes, she’s written a book: “Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid With Cowboy I Love.”

Why I Like Her: Her blog is alternately informative, hysterical, and kid-inspired adorable (and I like to think I’m generally rational about the latter). I’ve moved past the stage of jealousy about all that blogawesomeness. Now I’m annoyed I don’t know her in real life. So, Jesse, since we’re practically neighbors the beer is on me next time you’re in Staunton. Your blog says you’re traveling right now. I’ll wait. Not like I’m being creepy or anything…

Becky McCray – Small Town Rules@beckymccray

Becky McCray

Becky McCray, Small Biz Survival

You need to know Becky. For starters she’s behind the site Small Biz Survival. She’s a bona fide social media expert (I don’t say this lightly, given everyone seems to think they are these days!), a sincere rural advocate, and owner or co-owner of several businesses and entrepreneurial pursuits. For instance: she heads the State of Now/#140 social media conference — about social media in small towns!

Why I Like Her: Becky and I have “the sauce” in common. I’m talking, of course, about the fact that our indie businesses both sell booze. (Technically, only she sells hard liquor, as owner of a liquor store. I stick to craft beer.) Upon virtually meeting her I’ve been so impressed by her generosity and enthusiasm.

For example, Becky generously made the introduction that got my business get profiled on AMEX Open Forum. Isn’t that nice? So yes, she’s the bees knees. Be sure to read her book, Small Town Rules, which emphasizes how business is increasingly becoming person-to-person and how the act of building a business has community-building capacity, too.

Some great posts to check out are Can Small Towns Be Cool? and Are Small Towns Destined to Die?, or, shameless plug, listen to me on her podcast.

P.S.:  Also check out Becky’s guest post here, Small Town Rules Apply Everywhere, Right?

Diane Smith,

Diane Smith –

Diane is another fellow urban escapee — moving from Washington, D.C. to Whitefish, Montana and spearheaded a telecom start-up there. She is the author of, and book of the same name. It covers, “Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, Politics, Technology and Communications Infrastructure, Distance Learning, Remote Healthcare, the Arts, Energy, the Environment, Guns, and the Location Lottery.”

Yep, that about covers it. It’s a speedy and thoughtful read.

Why I Like Her: Diane’s book was the first I found that talked about the entrepreneurial potential of small cities/rural areas… It was also the first to help me understand the definition of “rural”.  Do you know that in some calculations any city with less than 100,000 people is classified as “rural”?

I quoted Diane in the Micropolitan Manifesto. Interestingly, her quote drove the most resistance, too. It was regarding the word “pioneer”—still a loaded word for some.

I guess it’s a reflection of the push and pull many communities feel between the “come heres” and the “been heres”…. what of the “all heres”? If there is a controversial idea here at this site, it is the idea that “all heres” are changing what is possible.

Odessa Sherbaniuk – #ReasonsRuralRocks - @sherbani

Odessa Sherbaniuk, #ReasonsRuralRocks

Why I Like Her: Odessa has connected people and ideas through her Twitter hashtag, #ReasonsRuralRocks. As she explains at Ripple (“Views and Voices of the Rural Northwest”),

When we hear of rural in the media, the story is often the same- another school being shut down, farmers struggling to make ends meet after a poor harvest, or other telling signs of rural decline. [... ] However, I was also aware of a sharp contrast between the “rural” that I saw portrayed in news stories and the “rural” that my family and I lived. [...]

The point of #ReasonsRuralRocks is not to disregard the challenges that rural communities face. [...] I want to make it clear that I am altogether aware that there are many problems associated with rural. I understand that there is nothing to be gained from taking a head-in-the-sand stance when it comes to these problems. But I also whole-heartedly believe that nothing good will come from fixating on the negative. If all we ever hear about is how broken rural is, how will we ever be able to imagine a better future for our communities? 

I think, as is most often the case, what we need is a balanced approach. There should be room to both recognize the challenges but also to celebrate rural achievements. Rural is not second-class urban. [emphasis added]

 P.S. I quoted Odessa in the Micropolitan Manifesto, too.

Jessica, Bridget & Laura “I Heart Yakima”

I Heart Yakima!Jessica MoskwaLaura Rankin and Bridget Russel 

I just interviewed Jessica, Laura, and Bridget, so rather than repeat things, check that out here.

Why I Like Them: These three women saw a gap in the good organizations in Yakima and decided to create an initiative on their own.

Well done, ladies, that takes balls! :)

Who Else Should Be on This List?

Why a list of women? The menfolk can’t do it without us! ;) Women have a big role to play in literally reshaping, rebuilding, and revitalizing our smallest cities. Yet, more mentors and role models are needed. Please add others — and your comments — below.



What Do You Think?