The urban / rural divide | In Focus

Here are some of the biggest differences between large cities and towns like Enumclaw.

I have lived in big cities and small towns. I know both sides of this urban/rural division in thinking. The split between urban and rural thinking was a frequent topic when I taught high school social studies for many years, so I had a lot of time to think about the differences.

I moved with my family from Federal Way to Enumclaw in 1978. We purchased 10 acres of farmland and forest. My personal motivation for moving to Enumclaw was to be able to survive a major depression by owning enough land to raise livestock and plant crops—in short, to be as independent as possible.

After living there on our farm for nearly a decade, I came to believe that economic self-sufficiency was an illusion.

If anarchy erupted, there was no way I could protect our property from someone who was better armed and more ruthless. Economic security would come from being connected to a strong, tightly knit community that could help its members during an economic disaster.

People who live in rural areas or small towns tend to be more conservative. It may be that being closer to the soil and to nature makes one conservative, or possibly it’s because people who move to rural areas think more like I did back in 1978. In rural areas things don’t change as often or as quickly. In large cities, change is constant; buildings are torn down and new ones are erected on a regular basis. Many races and ethnic groups intermingle.

In a large city, racial and cultural differences are more profound. In rural areas and small towns, people are quite often of the same race and come from similar ethnic cultures. Those who settled in Enumclaw were primarily of Scandinavian and northern European backgrounds. 80.4 percent of the people who live here are Caucasian, according to census records ( ). I remember a King County Executive coming to Enumclaw to speak at the 100-year Centennial at the Field House in 2013. He looked out across the audience and commented that almost all were Caucasian, something he didn’t see in metropolitan King County.

I taught my students that geography affects our reality and our life experiences.

People who congregate in small towns or rural areas generally don’t like change. They don’t like differences in viewpoints. They tend to be more religious, often holding traditional Christian values. Issues like abortion, gay marriage and LGBTQ rights go contrary to many conservative attitudes. There is also a distrust of government interference in their lives.

In contrast, the poor congregate in cities, rather than in rural areas. Many receive welfare or government assistance.

There was a belief held by members of local government that many of the homeless in Enumclaw came from outside the area. I did some research at Plateau Outreach Ministries and the Food Bank and found that most of our homeless are connected to local people.

It’s more likely that those who live in small towns know their mayor and city council because they may be neighbors. Politics is not far away, and people feel like they are connected to local government far more than those who live in metropolitan areas.

Back in the 1990s, there was a movement to create Cedar County because metropolitan King County was not seen as representing rural and small-town values. As recently as 2021, the Enumclaw City Council unanimously voted to explore whether the city could annex to Pierce County and secede from King County. The Mayor also supported this proposal.

The issue was over mask requirements and COVID-19 vaccination mandates. City government did not trust the King County Council and the Washington State governor. The Council believed that the governor overstepped his authority to impose such mandates, even though the State Supreme Court upheld the governor’s emergency powers.

This issue is personal for me because there were several people who wrote letters to the editor requesting that I be “fired from my job” because I didn’t represent what most Enumclaw residents believed. It’s an example of what I taught about the political spectrum to my high school students. In the upcoming midterms I can predict with almost absolute certainty that the majority of Enumclaw will favor the likely Republican U.S. House candidate Reagan Dunn, over Democrat Kim Schrier.

I had a Jewish friend who summed up the urban/rural division when he told me that “people who walk in the middle of the road are likely to get hit by traffic going in both directions.” I can see both sides of the issue. I wish you would, too—even if you get criticism from both the left and the right.