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Rural News

Where even Walmart won't go: how Dollar General took over rural America

The Guardian | Posted on August 16, 2018

As the chain opens stores at the rate of three a day across the US, often in the heart of ‘food deserts’, some see Dollar General as an admission that a town is failing. When Dollar General came to Haven, Kansas, it arrived making demands. The fastest-growing retailer in America wanted the taxpayers of the small, struggling Kansas town to pick up part of the tab for building one of its squat, barebones stores that more often resemble a warehouse than a neighbourhood shop. Dollar General thought Haven’s council should give the company a $72,000 break on its utility bills, equivalent to the cost of running the town’s library and swimming pool for a year, on the promise of jobs and tax revenues. The council blanched but ended up offering half of that amount to bring the low-price outlet to a town that already had a grocery store. The Dollar General opened in Haven at the end of February 2015. Three years later, the company applied to build a similar store in the neighbouring town of Buhler, a 20-minute drive along a ramrod straight road north through sprawling Kansas farmland.Buhler’s mayor, Daniel Friesen, watched events unfold in Haven and came to see Dollar General not so much as an opportunity as a diagnosis.Friesen understood why dying towns with no shops beyond the convenience store at the gas station welcomed Dollar General out of desperation for anything at all, like Burton, just up the road, where the last food shop closed 20 years ago. But Buhler had a high street with grocery and hardware stores, a busy cafe and a clothes shop. It had life.As Friesen saw it, Dollar General was not only a threat to all that but amounted to admission his town was failing. “It was about retaining the soul of the community. It was about, what kind of town do we want?” he said.

Rural America Faces A Crisis In 'Adequate Housing'

NPR | Posted on August 16, 2018

Economists say this phenomenon of "aging in place" is one of the main factors driving a shortage in housing nationwide. According to one analysis, people are living in their homes twice as long as they did before the Great Recession. Small towns like Ogallala are no exception to this trend. Ogallala's residents tend to skew older. And the town's remoteness and distance from a major power center like Omaha or Denver mean its problems with housing could be even harder to solve.This is the classic "chicken and egg" that has long plagued rural America, but the problem is being magnified now by the housing shortage. Nationally, housing economists lay blame on a number of things, including the high price of lumber due to new tariffs on Canadian wood. There's also a labor shortage — after the 2008 housing collapse, construction workers left the trades in droves.

Growing Lasting Wealth in Cobb County

Strone Towns | Posted on August 16, 2018

Marietta should aspire to grow its own downtown instead of pretending that Atlanta is its downtown. Assuming that the pattern found in Johns Creek and Gwinnett County extends throughout the rest of the first ring of suburbs, it’s extremely likely that Cobb County imports as many commuters as it exports on any given workday. There’s no reason that they should not be able to retain their wealth and create more complete neighborhoods in the process. Comparing counties is an art and not a science, even among counties with similar sizes, populations and densities within the Southeastern United States. But the numbers don’t lie; the major differentiating factor between Mecklenburg and Cobb is between one development style that grows lasting wealth and another that does not.Growth is not enough, and density is clearly not enough either. What suburban Atlanta needs—what all of us need—is a development pattern that creates productive growth. At the tail-end of the Growth Ponzi Scheme, and with nowhere left to expand, Cobb County is at a crossroads. The region certainly can’t afford to make another investment as bad as SunTrust Park.Because if Cobb County doesn't choose to build in a way that grows lasting wealth, they will continue their downward spiral into debt and poverty. Communities like Cobb County must address the problems that have plagued them from the outset by encouraging a compact style of development that produces true value per acre. It’s not a matter of whether they can afford to invest in their downtown. The fact is, they can’t afford not to

Most public engagement is worse than worthless

Strong Towns | Posted on August 16, 2018

Chuck Marohn's Strong Towns article entitled "Most Public Engagement is Worthless" grabbed my attention. The article is fantastic, and the comments are getting richer and richer as I write this. But I would like to go a bit further. I think most public engagement is beyond worthless. I think it actually corrodes the relationships we need in order to build a strong town. Most public engagement, as it is currently conducted, makes our cities worse places.Does this mean that I am saying we should abandon public engagement? Most definitely not. But I think we need to understand behavior, relationships, and expertise a lot better if we are going to do good with our consultation efforts instead of harm. Public engagement needs to be done well, because it would be better to do nothing at all than to corrode the public's trust in City Hall and in each other.What Are We Trying to Do?I really mean this question. What are we trying to do when we do public engagement? Why are all these people in this room? What are we trying to accomplish? Before we gather people for public consultation, we need to be clear and honest about what we are trying to do. Then, if consultation is the right solution, we can design a process to fill that need.We should only consult with residents when they are the ones that can best answer the question at hand. But in those moments, they should be treated as the experts they are.

Russia Doesn’t Need to Change Votes — Just Sow Confusion

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on August 16, 2018

Two states left nearly 200,000 people off voter rolls earlier this year, leading to confusion and anger when those people tried to cast a ballot in the primaries. Election security experts fear it could happen again in November. While the problems stemmed mainly from computer glitches and human error, the chances of a repeat could be even greater if foreign adversaries, like the Russian government, successfully hack voter registration information.The confusion in primary elections in Maryland and California illustrated that Russia wouldn’t need to change votes to disrupt America’s electoral process, said Maurice Turner, a senior technologist at the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C. Simply changing voter registration information or spreading disinformation about voting places and times could be catastrophic, he said.“The attack that is most likely to succeed is one that causes confusion,” Turner said. “To cause confusion, there just needs to be a disruption in the normal process, and people’s fears can start to build.”Disarray at the polls slows the voting process, disenfranchises people and sows doubt in democratic systems, Turner said.

In Florida, a fight over dog racing pits a waning generation of gamblers and trainers against animal rights advocates

SF Gate | Posted on August 16, 2018

Florida, which hosts a dozen of the nation's 17 surviving tracks, is set to vote in November whether to ban greyhound racing. Those in favor of a ban see racing as animal cruelty akin to cockfighting, contending that dogs are caged for most of the day and risk life-threatening injuries for the sake of gambling.Groups including the Humane Society of the United States and celebrities such as Doris Day, a longtime animal rights activist, have raised $2.5 million to pass the ban. Greyhound racing supporters have raised a miserly $24,000 to defend it. "We're going to get squashed," said Norm Rader, 62, a greyhound trainer. "It's a David and Goliath fight. They're going to overpower us with TV commercials. We can't dispute the lies they're telling about us."They are a target, Rader insists, because horse racing is too moneyed to take down."There's too much money there, so they're coming after us. I don't know what I'm going to do or how I'll survive," he said.Earlier this month, a controversial state judge ordered the measure to be removed from the ballot because its language was unclear, saying it amounted to "outright trickeration"; ban supporters then appealed the decision, prompting an automatic stay that put it back before voters. A hearing in the state's Supreme Court has now been confirmed, but both sides anticipate it will be on the ballot.

There was an outbreak of flu at the Mid-State Fair. Was a pig responsible?

San Luis Obispo Tribune | Posted on August 9, 2018

Health officials are investigating whether a pig at the California Mid-State Fair was responsible for an outbreak of influenza in San Luis Obispo County. The county public health department has learned of several people who have tested positive for the influenza virus after having “extended contact with pigs at the Mid-State Fair,” according to a county statement.

The Widening Divide in Business Turnover between Large and Small Urban Areas

Kansas City Fed | Posted on August 9, 2018

Business turnover—the rate at which new firms enter and old firms exit the economy—has been declining for at least 40 years in the United States. Declining business turnover is potentially problematic, as it may signal a drop in innovation and productivity growth as well as a lower share of economic activity at new businesses. As a result, the economic fortunes of metropolitan areas are likely to be intertwined with the rate of business turnover they experience. As the U.S. economy continues to transition from producing goods to providing services, changes in business turnover are unfolding differently in small versus large metropolitan areas. Jason P. Brown documents recent trends in business turnover across metropolitan areas of various sizes and shows that business turnover has declined much more sharply in small than in large urban areas. In addition, he finds that this gap widened in the years following the Great Recession. His results may help explain the widening economic divide between urban and rural areas of the country.

Why American policy is leaving millions hungry

The Washington Post | Posted on August 9, 2018

Instead of trying to eliminate hunger, we continue to talk about personal responsibility. A whopping 15.6 million American households experienced at least some food insecurity in 2016, meaning that more than 12 percent of the population did not always know when or how they would get their next meal. Despite this, Congress is debating making it even harder for the hungry to access government assistance. The House farm bill included revisions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) work requirements, adding more bureaucratic hurdles and decreasing available exemptions. President Trump supports the provision, signaling that as the House and Senate reconcile their farm bills the issue may become a sticking point.Why would such a wealthy nation not only allow hunger to persist, but even put forward policies likely to exacerbate it? The answer rests in part in a misconceptualization of hunger. Paternalistic rhetoric about the importance of work in qualifying someone to receive governmental aid forgets the very reason we have food-based welfare in the first place — hunger and food insecurity — and strikes a blow against SNAP’s purpose. This rhetoric transforms the food choices and physical bodies of SNAP users into markers of how undeserving recipients are, implicitly asserting that starvation-level hunger is the only legitimate kind of hunger, and that it doesn’t exist in the United States. The end result is more hungry Americans.

Yakima city council to consider repealing ban on pit bull breeds

The Seattle Times | Posted on August 9, 2018

Friends and foes of the oft-maligned pit bull terrier may soon have a final answer on whether the dogs can live within Yakima city limits. More than 30 years after the dogs were banned by city ordinance, the Yakima City Council again will consider allowing them. That’s almost entirely the result of new requirements approved by the council in June that pit-bull advocates say eliminate the need for the ban.The new requirements include spaying or neutering a dog that’s been impounded more than once in 12 months, expanding the definition of a potentially dangerous dog to include those that chase someone in a “menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack,” and increasing the cost to register a dog that has not been spayed or neutered.