PULLMAN, Wash.— The vastness and isolation of the American West forged a dependence on scarce natural resources—especially water, forests, fish, and minerals. The small towns clustered near these assets were often self-sufficient and culturally distinct. By 1941, mass media, as well as improved transportation and infrastructure, propelled these sequestered settlements into the mass society era.
Today, the internet is shaping another revolution, and it promises both obstacles and opportunity. In a global society, consequences developing in the West differ considerably from those emerging in the rest of the country. Formerly prosperous communities struggle to survive, while others attempt to cope with unprecedented growth. Seeking to understand the impact for western small towns specifically, Don Albrecht, Director of the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University, conducted strategic planning roundtables in thirteen states. The gatherings brought three major concerns to the surface: sustaining natural resources, creating vibrant rural economies, and enhancing educational and employment prospects.
Albrecht assembled insights from hundreds of individuals living and working in the rural West, as well as decades of his own research and an extensive review of relevant literature into Rethinking Rural: Global Community and Economic Development in the Small Town West. It is the first single volume to focus on the West and describe why the transition is occurring, what it means, and how to approach emerging problems. The book summarizes characteristics of the isolation, mass society, and global society eras, provides an overview of western environmental history, and explores the significant challenges identified during the forum discussions. More importantly, it offers guidance to community leaders, policy makers, and scholars seeking ways to address poverty, increasing inequality, and shifting demographics, as well as resource management and conservation issues. Lorie Higgins, Ph.D., Extension Specialist and Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at the University of Idaho, says Albrecht “tells the story of the West in a concise and compelling way, and makes a strong argument for new strategies in the current Global Society era.”