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helps to produce a distinctive community culture. This distinctive culture, which affects the local economy and especially local politics, is something that long-time residents, newcomers, and external scholarly observers alike can see. Newcomers may find themselves frustrated by “how things work” (or don’t, in their view) and perhaps by not being able to fathom how things work within limited scopes of time. Tensions between longer-term residents and newcomers can make it difficult to achieve political compromise within a community, and tensions between communities with different cultures can make regional cooperation difficult. These tensions often arise in transportation decision making (e.g., choosing the route of a regional highway) just as they do when the issues concern local schools and other public services.
In this regard too, places at one scale affect places at another—the social capital in a large region, for example, depends in part on the social capital existing in smaller places within the same region. This social capital may have the same durability and slow-changing nature as the natural and built environments, but it is likely to have more in common with the built environment than the natural environment in this respect.
Rural places are especially difficult to define without using the flexible criteria of near and frequently in identifying the nodes that collectively make up a person’s place. In rural areas, most people have relatively infrequent interaction with other people and the interaction takes place at widely scattered points in space. This is due in large part to the low density of population and the low spatial concentration of work sites. In some important agricultural regions, for example, farmers spend much of their work time in their own homes and make infrequent visits to other nodes. When they do visit other nodes, they must travel long distances— to sell their products, buy consumer goods and services, deal with government, or participate in nonprofit institutions. Their children often have long trips to and from school.
However, the sense of common purpose, identity, and rootedness may be just as strong in farming communities as in small towns or urban neighborhoods. Indeed, it has been suggested that some farming regions have a strong sense of place because their people see themselves as bound together by the common experience of dealing with the vagaries of nature. “Attachment to place can also emerge, paradoxically, from the experience of nature’s intransigence” (Tuan, 1974, p. 97). Definitions of places and design of policies that affect places must give special recognition to rural areas, but as always, the criteria related to the terms near and frequent must be applied reasonably. For most purposes it is not useful to consider