Articles

  • A one-lane gravel road in the Uwharries. Photo: Crystal Cockman

    A changing landscape: Who are the Uwharries for?

    In the years after World War II, my dad could roam the Uwharries with his .22 and his trusty squirrel dog, a feist named Spot. A boy didn’t have to worry about trespassing on a neighbor’s property; he only had to avoid the occasional moonshine still. Despite changes in land use — and an influx of outdoor enthusiasts from across the Piedmont and beyond — boys (and girls) in the Uwharries can still enjoy a reasonable facsimile of my dad’s experience, assuming they can tear themselves away from their screens. The area’s steadily growing range of recreational opportunities provides an opportunity to draw in more visitors from across the region — but also poses challenges for locals used to long-standing traditions like hunting.
  • Great Falls, South Carolina (SC) paddling.

    Rebuilding the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection: Where do we go from here?

    Our purpose in studying the 32-county region wasn’t to merely document a Carolinas version of the familiar urban-rural divide. Instead, we sought to go beyond the conventional narrative of an irreversible split, and seek examples of connections –  either residual or new – between urban and rural communities. Connections that might provide opportunities for renewal in places still struggling to adapt to the changing economic landscape of the 21st century.
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Pisgah National Forest.

    How our changing landscape sustains us all

    Ecosystems such as forests and wetlands provide clean air and water, food, building materials, and recreational opportunities. The benefits people receive from nature are referred to as “ecosystem services.”  Our interactions with ecosystems can have a positive impact, boosting our health and the economy. We can also have a negative impact on the health and survival of these natural resources.
  • Workers sewing at Opportunity Threads, an employee-owned business based in Morganton. Photo courtesy Opportunity Threads.

    Homegrown economic development: Turning to entrepreneurship

    Outside of booming cities, can entrepreneurship “save” Main Street?  Longtime practitioners who have researched or designed entrepreneurship strategies across the country see it as the surest route to helping rural and small-town communities survive and thrive.
  • South Fork Village Construction Cramerton NC Gaston County

    Small towns and rural communities seek to boost affordable housing

    Although housing affordability is often thought of as an issue in big cities, rural and suburban communities alike are struggling with the affordable housing crisis. And, like Charlotte, smaller communities are trying to figure out how to deal with the ballooning problem with limited resources. Regardless of where people are choosing to live, salaries aren’t keeping up with rapidly increasing housing prices for both renters and buyers. 
  • Housing is springing up across Charlotte and its booming suburbs, but some rural counties are losing population. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    Our population is more concentrated in cities ⁠— and increasingly diverse

    There’s a common narrative about people in rural areas seeking opportunities: they should go to the big city and leave the country behind.  Rural counties are often seen as hollowed out or in decline, while cities and their adjacent suburbs boom. While population in the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection study area has become much more concentrated in the urban and suburban core, the story is (as usual) more complex than that.
  • Richmond County extension director and extension agent Paige Burns discusses bok choy with Mandy Davis, co-director of Sandhills Farm-to-Table (in the pink hat). Photo: Nancy Pierce

    Why intermediaries are key to viable local food systems

    Growing and buying healthy local food is a business: complex, rich in heritage and culture, essential to health and well-being, consumed by all but understood by few.  We learned from our Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection regional food systems research that farmers who become part of the wholesale food supply chain are able to increase the economic viability of their crops. However, this commitment not only requires additional investment and education, then selling directly to consumers, it also requires the support of many partners or intermediaries, along the way.
  • Quadplexes built in Badin, N.C. for workers by Alcoa, which for generations was the town's major employer. The aluminum works is gone now, leaving Badin to search for a new way forward. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    There’s a housing affordability crisis in rural areas, too

    Charlotte has struggled with housing affordability in recent years, as the city faces rising rents and home prices driven by rapid growth and low supply.  But urban areas are not the only places grappling with these challenges, even though affordable housing is typically seen as an urban problem. Rural areas in the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connection study region are also experiencing a severe housing shortage and affordability issue.
  • Highways lead from North Carolina to South Carolina without any physical border - but there still appears to be an effect on our behavior. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    A border problem? Unexpected ways the state line influences our behavior

    We don’t often think about crossing state lines. Other than changes in gas prices or the availability of fireworks, there’s little visible difference as you cross from North Carolina into South Carolina, or vice versa. But that line appears to influence our behavior, at least when it comes to how we spend leisure time. 
  • Sackda and Phoudone Naovarath, Laotian immigrants, own and operate the only restaurant in Badin, Tho Pizza & Hot Subs. The diverse menu includes fajita subs, lo mein, teriyaki and hibachi dishes, salads, double bacon cheeseburgers, Pad Thai, hush puppies, fish & chips, and pizza. Photo: Nancy Pierce

    ‘It would be insane’ not to value stronger urban-rural connections

    Cities boom while rural areas struggle. People seeking opportunity leave the countryside for urban areas. Small towns left behind after the local mill or factory closes down are hollowed-out shells. We’ve heard these tropes before; cliches about the urban-rural divide abound. But the Carolinas Urban-Rural Connections project is built on the premise that there’s more that unites us than divides us.