This week, I have been telecommuting from my soon-to-be home Charlotte, North Carolina. I must say it has been somewhat of a culture shock. Ultimately, it has made me realize both the differences and similarities in resources between urban/suburban and rural areas. To expand on two main issues:
Public transportation: Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) offers a light rail spanning from the suburbs straight into Uptown as well as numerous bus routes. Together, there are about 70 bus and rail routes that operate nearly 24 hours a day. Did I mention the abundant Uber, Lift, and Taxi drivers? Shall I talk about the city incentives/ rewards program for “green commuters”?
As a social service provider in rural PA, the hardest barrier I face is simply getting people there. Public transportation is sparse, the rideshare apps have not yet been persuaded to take on the area, and taxi drivers are far and few between. People either rely on their own two feet or the generosity of others to get to their destination.
My two cents: Rural areas are in need of the same access to public transportation. Sure, there aren’t as many destinations, but there are plenty of people who don’t have access to a vehicle because basic needs such as a roof over their head take precedence. Transportation equates to livelihood in many cases- it’s a way to get to work, a way to pick up groceries, a way to get to needed community services. Low income individuals deserve a chance to break the cycle of poverty with access to adequate public transportation.
Food Access: It seems I can’t go 400 feet without a grocery store sign littering the Charlotte skyline. There are SIX Harris Teeters within 2 miles from where I will live. This is great for people in close proximity to the Queen City, but does not reflect food access in the suburbs. Stepping further into Mecklenburg County, home of about one million residents total, about 23%* of people are living in areas deemed “food deserts” with no access to fresh, healthy, affordable food.
Moving north, across Headwaters’ impact area food deserts cover roughly one-fourth of the 12 counties. For example, in Elk County that percentage of residents effected is 9.5%*. While this percentage may seem low, that’s still 3,000 of our neighbors in Elk County without adequate access to nutritious food.
My two cents: Healthy options are around every corner in the heavily populated portion of the greater Charlotte area. There are countless farmers markets, community gardens, and resources for eating seasonally from local sources. However, once you move beyond that bubble, grocery stores are increasingly replaced by corner markets and fast food chains. There may be access to processed foods, but healthy options are far and few between.
This is similar to rural PA in the sense that there are more fast food chains in Elk County than grocery stores. There are numerous gas stations that provide processed snacks and Made to Order food. Headwaters’ plans to continue the work of increasing access to local foods with farmers markets and community gardens, but this is just step one. Achieiving food security is truly a community effort.
Conclusion: Having been born and raised in rural areas, it was easy for me to get frustrated this week sitting motionless while the light rail crossed the main road or waiting in a 20-minute checkout line at the grocery store…. until I put it in perspective. These resources are precious. Whether staring at the city lights or millions of stars, people have a right to equal access to these resources. Our livelihoods depend on it.
*This metric represents the percentage of people in a county living more than 1 mile from a grocery store if in an urban area, or more than 10 miles in a rural area.