Traveling from Northern New Hampshire to the Fall Conference in New Orleans offered me a birds-eye reminder of the rural-urban connections in our lives. And got me thinking about a slightly different role for community foundations.
Getting to the airport is often the first real leg of any interstate flight for rural dwellers, so I began my trip yesterday, driving more than three hours to catch a sunrise flight today.
Blessed with a clear day and a window seat, I had my nose pressed to the glass, tracking the progress of our flight by the villages, towns, and cities below. On this flight, my attention was drawn to the built infrastructure threading across the landscape. The highways, railroad corridors, and energy transmission lines are undeniable evidence of the interdependence of urban and rural America. It is the natural assets and green infrastructure of our rural areas that provide much of the food, water, and energy for the entire country—connected by rails, pavement, and power lines.
Thinking about the conference (and in particular the rural leadership development presentation I was preparing) I started to wonder: “Where is the civic and social infrastructure that connects rural and urban America? Is there a role for community foundations? For sure, many community foundations play this role in their individual communities and some at the statewide level. They are, after all, “place based” foundations.
But how many local community foundations are prepared—with adequate resources and relationships—to help their communities build bridges to their urban or rural counterparts, especially when the voices of nonprofits and donors in their backyard are, with good reason, so insistent?
And what is the state of mind—or organizational values, or world view, or philosophy—that enables a community foundation to think about the spaces and connections between rural and urban communities? After all, so many of the issues community foundations care about are not bound by municipal or state boundaries. And some of them—for example clean water, energy, healthy food, transportation and housing—can only be addressed equitably if we are able to bridge rural and urban perspectives and needs.
These are questions I’ll be thinking about over the next few days. And as I listen to colleagues and friends from the community foundation field, I’ll be asking them, and myself, to consider the connections and spaces between.
Racheal Stuart is principal of Racheal L. Stuart Consulting in Berlin, N.H.