From the Aspen Institute
A place is distinguished by its people, governance and institutions as much as it is by its physical landscape, natural resources, buildings and boundaries.1 The character of a place, its identity, and its people’s sense of belonging are shaped by interaction within the place and with other places, and by its history and its culture. Every person lives in multiple places – both over a lifetime and at any given time – where they reside, work, learn, shop and play. And everyone lives at different scales – home, neighborhood, city, state, nation, other countries.
Quality of life is largely determined by the characteristics of places, for better or worse. Differences between places drive inequalities in economic opportunity, educational attainment and health outcomes.
These differences are often expressed as “geography is destiny” or “geographic inequity.” The idea that where you live determines your life chances strikes at the heart of the American Dream of opportunity for all – that if you work hard, it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you look like, you can achieve a stable and prosperous life. But, the groundbreaking research of Raj Chetty2,3 on economic mobility has shown clearly that geography and race really do shape your destiny.
Rural America is a special place – or more accurately a mosaic of many special places – where connection to the land is the defining characteristic, reinforced by history, culture and lived experiences. Equity in a rural context is complicated – in its relationship with urban and suburban America, in terms of who owns and controls the land and its resources, and in the very present legacies of broken promises to Native peoples and of slavery and discrimination. Yet, it still is a place of both majestic and intimate landscapes, of resilient and resourceful people and communities, and a vital part of the United States, past, present and future.
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