Random America

appalachiaI seldom listen to National Public Radio, but a tweet by NPR reporter Sarah McCammon caught my attention:

Overheard in DC: I could never live in a rural area, some random-a** city like Wisconsin.

She followed with:

Me: Have you ever been to Wisconsin?

Her: No.

Me: [Eye rolling emoticon].

You can read it all here: https://t.co/Iraj7nNjEN .

The comments pretty much cover it. It wouldn’t have been better if the unnamed speaker had meant to say “in Wisconsin,” but at least it would have shown comprehension of the difference between a city and a state. Making a blanket statement about rural living in general and Wisconsin in particular didn’t help, especially after she admitted to Ms. McCammon that she’d never been to Wisconsin. It also didn’t help that she used the word “city” in describing a rural environment.

It did get me wondering what are the odds that, if you were randomly transported anywhere within the United States, where would you likely find yourself? For that, I turned to the US Census Data found at http://www.census.gov/geo/reference/ua/urban-rural-2010.html. The US Census Bureau divides the US into urban and rural, with urban further divided into urban area and urban cluster. Based on 2010 US Census data, the break-down of land area is as follows:

Urban:  3.06%
Rural: 96.94%

In other words, our hypothetical teleportee would have only about a 3% chance of ending up in a city.

What kind of terrain would he probably be in? Well, let’s see … here we have to look for another source, and, of course, that means a little different take oin the date. data. I went to http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/major-land-uses/major-land-uses/ and used data from 2012. That gave me the following for US land use:

Cropland:                  17.34%
Pasture and Range: 29.00%
Forest:                        27.95%
Special Use:               13.97%
Urban:                          3.09%
Other:                           8.65%

Special use can be things like national parks; Federal land; military installations; and so on and so forth. There is a full description of each category on the web site.

Looking at these percentages, you’d have A 56.95% chance of ending up on cropland, pasture, or range. Considering the size of some ranges, our teleportee wouldn’t necessarily be near a ranch house.

Of course such things depend on the state. Looking at it that way, our teleportee has a 16.16% chance of ending up in Alaska. Adding up the forestry, special use, and other categories, we end up with a 99.74% chance of ending up, well, somewhere remote.

Now, if our teleportee were to land in Georgia, (a 1.63% chance), he would be … maybe a little better off. According to the land use data, Georgia is the state with the second most land in forestry use, right behind Alaska. If our teleportee landed there, he’d have a 66.16% chance of being in the woods. That goes up to 74.81% if we add in the special use and other land. Somewhere in the 74.81% is the Okefenokee Swamp – our teleportee would have a 1.19% chance of ending up there if they touched down in Georgia – and that’s hardly the only swamp in that state. At least they’d have an 8.71% chance of ending up in an urban area. That’s just slightly lower than New York State’s 8.75%.

For that matter, New York State is 69.22% forest, special use, and other, and our teleportee would have a 1.33% chance of landing in that state.

Let’s look at Wisconsin, since that’s how this started. Again, adding together the forests, special use, and other categories, our teleportee would have a 59.12% chance of ending up in the woods, a 37.32% chance of landing on crop and pasture land, and a 3.56% chance of ending up in a city. He’d also have a 1.53% chance of ending up in Wisconsin to begin with.

All this is an eye-opener, especially for city folks, who think that cities are more prevalent than they are, and have no idea just how rural America really is. It reminds me of a missionary who spent most of her life in Taiwan, and was struck at how empty the US was in comparison. Only a small fraction of America is cities. And yet someone who only knows cities, or densely populated countries like some in Europe (compare Germany’s 593 people per square mile to the US’ 85, and reflect that this includes the cities, too), the shear remoteness of most of the US is something that’s hard to comprehend.

Maybe playing the random transportee game helps just a teensy bit.