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There exists a well-known and significant divide between urban and rural areas in the United States. The divide has been documented along multiple dimensions – social, economic, and political – and is seen as a detrimental characteristic of our national identity and capacity for both economic development and civil political discourse. In this Article, we explore a subset of the urban/rural divide and propose a mechanism for reducing its economic and political effects within that limited realm. Specifically, we focus on the subset of rural areas that lie within what the Office of Management and Budget defines as micropolitan areas. Micropolitan areas are characterized by an urban area with a population between 10,000 and 50,000, and adjacent rural counties. Data suggest that rural areas within micropolitan regions do better economically than rural areas unconnected to urban areas, though not as well as the principal city within the micropolitan area. If the objective is to reduce the economic, and perhaps the political divide between urban and rural areas, then micropolitan areas may represent low-hanging fruit for redress.

This Article argues that micropolitan areas are an important window into understanding the relationship between urban and rural economies, explores the characteristics of those areas that are likely to generate economic success and recommends policies that would capture those benefits. Additionally, we speculate that increased opportunities for economic interaction between the urban and rural parts of micropolitan areas could also address the political aspects of the urban-rural divide. Recognizing the complexity of the relationship between urban and rural economies, we identify various obstacles to realizing the kinds of interlocal cooperation that we believe are necessary to reduce the economic and political divide within micropolitan areas. We conclude with suggestions for a research agenda to remedy the underdeveloped study of micropolitan areas.

Publication Citation

24 Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Forthcoming