Series: Wisconsin's Rural-Urban Continuum

Most Wisconsinites live in urban and suburban communities, but the state’s landscape is dominated by rural areas where farmland and forest predominate. But what makes a given place rural? What about small towns or exurbs or "up north" tourist destinations? And when is a place even considered small in the first place? Defining the continuum between rural and urban areas is complex and can be a contentious matter. It is also continuously in flux as people grow older, have children and move between places in pursuit of different opportunities. The demographics of rural Wisconsin are changing rapidly, with populations aging and overall numbers decreasing in many areas. These shifts have profound implications for the state as a whole, and will shape its economy, politics and culture.
 
Pepin, Buffalo, Trempealeau, La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and Grant — these seven counties running north-to-south along the Mississippi River comprise nearly half of Wisconsin's western border.
It's a time of profound change for Wisconsin's population — where it's concentrated, where it's moving, which age groups and racial and ethnic origins it reflects, and what kinds of lives all residents are seeking to live.
New data from an annual U.S. Census report show that some regions in Wisconsin had significant shifts in population from 2016 to 2017.
Given their prominence in Wisconsin's traditions, where cows and deer can actually be found around the state can serve as a lens to examine rurality.
When it comes to jobs in Wisconsin, there are unique differences between the urban communities of Milwaukee and Madison, with their legacy-industry manufacturing and government-education tandem, respectively, compared to agriculture-, manufacturing- and tourism-intensive rural counties.
While perceived social and political divides between the urban and rural areas of Wisconsin remains a frequent topic of discussion, gaining a better understanding of the relationships between the two is very influenced by where people work.
Despite their differences, rural and urban places are connected by the people who live and work among them.
There is increasing interest in understanding rural issues in the United States. Malia Jones of the UW Applied Population Laboratory discusses the variety of ways "rural" can be defined, related to the economy, land use, access to services and other factors.
While differences between rural and urban parts of the U.S. may be vast in many places, drawing those geographic distinctions is not always simple.
Political narratives in the United States often rely on the ideas of "rural" and "urban" as distinct and diametrically opposed places in conflict.