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Urban And Rural Americans Have More In Common Than They Might Think

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's lots of talk about the political divide between urban and rural America, and in many ways, that divide is sharper than ever. But as Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, people living in the middle of cities and those in tiny rural towns may have more in common than they realize.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: At least sports still draw people together.

BOBBIE SPIEZIO: Woo. Go Chiefs.

MORRIS: Bobbie Spiezio drove four hours from rural Arkansas here to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to see some football and take a break from politics.

SPIEZIO: I think we need to just quit fighting with each other, come together as one nation, like our Pledge of Allegiance says, and fight together and be Americans.

MORRIS: Of course, that's easier said than done. Travis Allen, who came here from tiny, remote Stafford, Kan., doesn't see a lot of common ground between urban and rural America.

TRAVIS ALLEN: The biggest issues in Stafford is that rural America is dying. All the money and all the people leave.

MORRIS: ...And go to cities. But where some see conflict, others see connections. Janette Countee was a short drive from the stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

JANETTE COUNTEE: Just because you live in a rural area don't mean that you don't have the same problems that people in the major cities have. Yeah, the problems are the same.

MORRIS: Common problem No. 1 - drugs. Methamphetamine addiction has raged in rural areas for decades. Now it's come to the center of Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERSON KNOCKING ON DOOR)

MORRIS: Pat Clarke is an urban core developer, coach, mentor - the kind of guy who will pound on a meth house door.

PAT CLARKE: All it is, is a shop. They make the meth here, they smoke the meth here, and they sell the meth here.

MORRIS: Meth is relatively new here, but other drugs and violence have racked this center-city neighborhood for decades.

CLARKE: When you talk about the city and the rural areas, that's our common ground, drugs. Drugs - the same things that are killing us here is killing them there.

MORRIS: And it's not just meth. Obesity, alcoholism, domestic violence and poverty are also killing residents in the urban core and remote rural towns.

EMANUEL CLEAVER: And here's the deal. Both areas need government help.

MORRIS: That's Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, and he should know. His district is anchored in Kansas City's urban core, but it fans out across 100 miles of farmland and small towns.

CLEAVER: You have to be able to represent rural America and the urban core. And the one thing that people don't realize is that they're very similar.

MORRIS: Of course, there are major differences - race, for one. Urban core Kansas City and much of rural Missouri are literally Black and white. And in sleepy Orrick, Mo., population 800, the pace of life seems much slower.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOCK CHIME RINGING)

ROGER THOMAS: It's a good town.

MORRIS: Roger Thomas is a former mayor of Orrick. Dozens of antique clocks keep time in his home. Thomas says Orrick is safe and peaceful, but the town does have a meth problem, same as the urban core. And problem No. 2 that they have in common - an acute shortage of affordable housing.

THOMAS: You can't rent a house here. There's no rental houses available.

MORRIS: The housing issue makes it hard to attract new people or jobs, which brings us to issue No. 3 - many rural and urban core communities struggle with a depressed economy. Becca Mason, the elementary school counselor in Orrick, says it can be especially hard on kids.

BECCA MASON: Family members using drugs, parents not working, not having enough money for food and everything. They have to work odd hours so they're never home, so it's just, like, a lack of supervision.

MORRIS: So the urban core and rural America have some serious problems in common, but they also share positive bonds. They often root for the same regional sports teams. Around here at least, they share a common love of barbecue, and they're both full of people who desperately want what's best for their communities. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.