City mouse and country mouse

The Great Divide may be a song, it may also be a long trail in the Canadian Rockies, but surely the urban living vs country living divide is just as great. The cultural disparity between the two, not only precedes industrialization, in the time of de la Fontaine, it is probably as old as cities themselves, within long lost civilizations. A few enduring, current and developing events make it worthwhile asking ourselves what it will be like for children, growing up in cities or in the country side, during this century.

Worldwide urbanization has been an ongoing trend for generations and has also been accelerating, along with mass production and population growth. “By 2050, with the urban population more than doubling its current size, nearly 7 of 10 people in the world will live in cities” according to the World Bank, in 2020. The emergence of slogans like “Farmers feed cities” or “Farm to table, buy local” or “Stop urban sprawl” indicates that the relationship between city and country dwellers is evolving. We should probably add suburbanites to the mix, since they have had such an impact on the expansion of car culture and the undermining of urban cores as inhabitable spaces.

Two current events may signal that we can now contemplate with fresh eyes, the aforementioned irreversible trend. One is the scare COVID-19 gave to city dwellers, imposing on many to work remotely from home. It remains to be seen what percentage will continue to work from home, but some have already chosen to adopt this new lifestyle, and even left the city for less densely populated areas. This, coupled with the limited access to cities by country dwellers, exacerbates another issue that has long been denounced by rural citizens: lagging internet connectivity and poor bandwidth access. Small town folks have long decried the inequitable connectivity that they endured for too long. It is predictable that ex-urbanites will not accept losing it, no matter how far from the city they move, and work. As recently as last April, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) said that “since the pandemic started, rural speeds have been between one-fifth and one-tenth urban speeds (…) rural download speeds hovered around 5.5 Mbps, compared to roughly 50 Mbps in urban Canada.” Canadians already pay more for their communication service, than consumers in similar countries.

Sign of the time maybe, a group of young Canadian women have taken upon themselves to help students coming from remote areas to have better access to urban institutions, without losing their roots and identities. Meet the Foundation for Rural Youth Empowerment (FRYE). It is not uncommon to see rural youth abandon their studies and return home from a large centre. This brave group takes upon itself to breakdown barriers this population face. A mirror group for city youth who are foreign to the rural experience, would be a good idea. Just saying.

We should probably expect a new urban-suburb-country dynamic, with renewed cultural experiences, from now on. It looks like while the cities adapt in post-pandemic, so will everyone else outside the cities. This can prove to be quite interesting to watch, as far as intergenerational harmony or conflicts go. Soon, the urbanite’s weekend escapade from the city to cottage country, and the villager’s photo-safari in the city, might all tell a different story. It is even possible that these two worlds merge into one, at last.

Town mouse and country mouse, illustration by Milo Winter, in Aesop for children, 1919. Source: Gutenberg.org, 28 June 2021.

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