Many years ago I wrote a post about living in a suburb — Wheaton, Illinois — but having a life that in many ways felt more like what city life is supposed to be:
For people like me Wheaton doesn’t feel like a suburb at all, and many aspects of my life sound kinda urban. My family and I live in a small house – with one bathroom, for heaven’s sake – and have a single four-cylinder car. I walk to work most days, frequently taking a detour to Starbucks on the way. From work I often walk to Wheaton’s downtown to meet people for lunch, or, at the end of the day, to meet my wife and son for dinner. Drug stores and a small grocery store are equally close; I even walk to my dentist. I also like being just a short stroll from the Metra line that takes me into Chicago, just as Chicago residents like living just a short stroll from the El. And I know many other people who live in much the same way.
The point of my post is that the common opposition between “city life” and “suburban life” obscures many vital distinctions and gradations.
I don’t live in a suburb any more, I live in a city. But because the city I live in — Waco, Texas — has 125,000 people rather than millions, it’s not the kind of place that people refer to as urban when they talk about “America’s urban-rural divide.” For example, here is a piece by Eric Levitz that uses the binary opposition in the conventional way, or what seems to me to be the conventional way. I can’t be certain, but I strongly suspect that Levitz thinks that people who live in cities the size of the one I live in — especially if those cities are south of the Mason-Dixon Line — are “rural.” But they aren’t. Even if we don’t think or vote like New Yorkers.
When people talk about “the urban-rural divide in America,” I think what they usually mean is “the divide between people who live in megacities and people who live everywhere else.”