6 Oct 2008, 1:01pm
researcher perspective
by Amber Shasky

Some Might Call It Oregon

Part of our analysis for Ecotopia Revisited is to compare communities that some might consider a utopia on a rural-urban axis. We have visited intentional communities, tourist destinations, and communities that are sometimes described as utopian, in eastern, central, western, and coastal Oregon. Throughout these interviews, I have been reflecting on how Oregonians’ ideas are similar across these places. Although the following suggestions are still preliminary, I believe it is important to note the similarities of rural and urban Oregon.

There seem to be stereotypes of both eastern, more rural Oregon, and the western, more urban region of the state. The typical stereotype of western Oregon is that residents are more politically liberal, distant from open wilderness, and that the dense population in Portland, Salem, and Eugene has a strong sway in the statewide politics. Stereotypes about eastern Oregon usually are that it is politically conservative. For example, an article in the New York Times reads: “Oregon is well known for the sharp divide between its more liberal and populated west and its rural east.” However, our evaluation of Oregonians’ opinions regarding the global, regional, and local situations hint that western and eastern Oregon are more similar ideologically than some might believe.

Like there are similar threads of discussion between intentional and non-intentional communities, rural and urban Oregonians appear to discuss similar themes. In both places, residents touch on nature, spirituality, and community in similar ways. Oregonians discuss nature in a few different contexts – nature as regenerative for people who appreciate it, as aesthetically something to appreciate, and as something that needs to be preserved for it’s inherent qualities. Participants in our interviews touch on ecological sustainability when they discuss the future of the world, region, and local area. People in rural and urban areas also touch on spirituality by discussing their connectedness to religion, nature, community, and people. Finally, residents of both areas emphasize the importance of community and reliance on others.

While this commentary is still anecdotal, the parallel conversations had by rural and urban Oregonians don’t simply ascribe to the “liberal and populated west” and “rural east” label. These conversations, much of which relate to political topics, show that ideologically urban and rural Oregon are, perhaps, not so different.

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