New methods for defining rurality: combining survey-based commuting data and grid-based travel time to measure relative accessibility

Authors: John Cromartie*, USDA
Topics: Population Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: rurality, rural definitions, remoteness, commuting flows, spatial units
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Bourbon Room, Astor, Mezzanine
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Debates on the nature of rurality and calls for new rural definitions are taking place in both U.S. and international policy circles. In 2015, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences convened a workshop to consider how the U.S. Department of Agriculture should approach classifying rural areas. Similarly, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is developing a Conceptual Framework for Improving Rural Statistics, which includes methods for constructing an internationally consistent rural classification system. In both of these comprehensive assessments, experts studying rurality are grappling with a concept that is both multi-dimensional and subjective. Choice of a spatial unit (e.g., administrative boundaries, census statistical units, grid cells) also fundamentally shapes rural definitions. This paper assesses different strategies for measuring relative accessibility or remoteness, a key dimension of rurality. In the U.S., county-to-county commuting flows based on survey data have been the primary proxy measure of the accessibility/remoteness continuum in constructing rural (nonmetropolitan) definitions at both the county and sub-county levels. More recently, a grid-based approach to measuring accessibility/remoteness using travel time by car across the entire U.S. road network has been used to identify frontier areas of the U.S. Here we compare results between these two very different methodologies to consider how they may be usefully combined, especially in sparsely-settled areas where the commuting-flow results are statistically uncertain.

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