Urban, Suburban, or Rural?
February 23, 2018 11:51 AM   Subscribe

In surveys, I'm sometimes asked whether I live in an urban, a suburban, or rural environment. I am overthinking this question.

I live in a smallish Midwestern town (population >100k). I live in a single-family home with a yard and my neighborhood is one of the older, close-in neighborhoods to the downtown city center. I could walk there- it's about 1.5 miles. It's about the same distance to the row of big box stores in the opposite direction. I wouldn't call our neighborhood either urban or suburban- it's hard to describe anything in my town as either of those terms. The town does have tinier towns around it where people live because it's cheaper and they commute, so they're kinda suburbs. But not really.

I've lived out in the country, miles from anywhere. I've lived in tiny towns, hours from cities. I've lived in suburbs that used to be tiny towns but sprawled out. I would only describe living in the country as rural, because I know even a tiny town is still more of a town than no town at all. But probably someone living in a very urban area would consider even my current town fairly rural.

How should I answer this question?
posted by aabbbiee to Society & Culture (13 answers total)
It's sort of simple for me because my town is less than 5000 so it's basically rural. You might be interested in the census definitions? You are definitely not rural. Your location sounds urban based on their definitions.
posted by jessamyn at 11:56 AM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Walkable to a ‚downtown‘ = urban.
posted by The Toad at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

While I don't do survey design, I frequently use survey data and teach undergraduate and graduate statistics. In my capacity as an Official Statistics and Survey Person, I do hereby state that you are overthinking this question.

Similarly, in that same capacity I do hereby grant you Official Statistical Approval to give whatever answer seems most immediately, without-thinking-about-it, right to you and to feel super-secure in your awesome answer.

If they really super-cared, they'd either ask for or otherwise know your street address and would just plug in Census information about your block group or census tract.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:20 PM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

It is even Totally Just Fine if one time you say that you're urban and another time you're just feeling suburban that day and say you're suburban that time.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:22 PM on February 23, 2018

I was trying to find some links but I'm striking out.

I think some of the confusion about urban/suburban in your case is that the concepts have shifted over the years. I know when people talk about suburban living now, they tend to think of newer suburbs with bigger houses, more sprawl, and are really only accessible by automobile. Older suburbs, which are walkable, closer to downtowns, and often accessible by non-automobile modes, are often considered urban because they aren't suburban enough in the current American perception. It sounds like you live in an old suburb of a town that is probably kinda urban now. (I live in a similar situation in Berkeley, which is a suburb of Oakland but for most purposes and people is pretty urban.)
posted by kendrak at 12:24 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Surveys should clarify such categories, even if they're using Census designations, because otherwise they'll get a range of responses. Lacking any guidance, I think your gut feeling is most telling for a survey, so go with that.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:28 PM on February 23, 2018

I live "walkable to downtown" and this ain't even close to urban. So there's that.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:43 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m in a similar neighborhood and have thought about this too. I lean toward calling it urban. Some of the ambiguity comes from the difference between “suburb” and “suburban” - by definition, I don’t live in a suburb, but my area could be characterized as “suburban” if that means having sub-urban levels of density, business-to-residence ratio, and transit availability.
posted by lakeroon at 12:50 PM on February 23, 2018

"I live 'walkable to downtown' and this ain't even close to urban. So there's that."

In a city with a population over 100k, it probably is.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:16 PM on February 23, 2018

To me the difference between urban and suburban is between 10-15 households per acre. I live at about 8 households per acre (~4.2k square feet, or .1 acre, lots, plus road overhead), I regularly walk downtown, but a density too low to support mass transit, and most people hop in their cars to go to the grocery store, many work out of the "city" (of 60k).

Rural is somewhere less than a house an acre, probably close to a house per ten acres.

These definitions roughly mesh with what the urban planning geeks in my social circles seem to use in conversation.
posted by straw at 1:55 PM on February 23, 2018

I'd call that description suburban or maybe urban.
posted by stormyteal at 2:16 PM on February 23, 2018

To me, if you have to have a car for day-to-day life, it's suburban. I realize that for the US that leaves few urban areas but that also strikes me as accurate.
posted by dame at 7:38 PM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

I make the bulk of my income answering surveys on Mechanical Turk and other platforms. I answer this question all the freaking time. Fortunately, I live more than a mile outside the city limits of a town with a population of 6000, so "rural" is a no-brainer for me.

But probably someone living in a very urban area would consider even my current town fairly rural.

Someone living in a very urban area isn't answering your surveys. It's ok to just pick an answer and move on. I promise.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 4:33 AM on February 24, 2018

« Older Software that creates realistic room scenes?   |   Prague in May Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.