OSU Web site offers data on state's rural communities

October 14, 2008

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has created a Web site that compiles statistics, maps and scholarly works to help people understand and shape the future of Oregon's rural communities.

Called the Rural Communities Explorer, the Web site is intended as a source of information for policymakers, nonprofits, local leaders and concerned citizens.

"The Rural Communities Explorer provides them with a one-stop shop to get information they need to advocate for their community, apply for grants, and be more informed about where their community is with respect to environmental, economic, social and demographic issues," said Lena Etuk, a social demographer with the OSU Extension Service and one of the developers of the Web site. “Until now, that information hasn't been easily accessible.”

The site combines data from sources that include the U.S. Census Bureau, the OSU Extension Service, OSU's Rural Studies Program, and state agencies like the departments of Education, Environmental Quality, Forestry, Human Services and Revenue.

Data are provided for common demographics like population, age, family structure, education, income, employment, migration, ethnicity, mortality, crime and housing. But there also are some less typical countywide statistics, like the value of deposits in commercial banks and the number of bowling alleys.

The Web site, which includes data on large and small towns too, allows users to compare these demographics for specific places in a side-by-side, easy-to-read tabular format.

Oregon is made up of 723 named places ranging from little-known specks on the map like Christmas Valley to cities like Salem and Portland, according to a 2007 count by Etuk. The Census Bureau, however, doesn't recognize 414 of the smaller communities because they're unincorporated. Consequently, the Web site is unable to provide specific statistics for these 414 places. In these cases, the site uses spatially broader data from census tracts, which are geographic units that often include more than one small community. Christmas Valley, for example, is included in a census tract that contains seven other small communities, including Paisley and Fort Rock. As a result, the population listed for Christmas Valley is larger than what it really is.

"Despite these limitations, the Web site is still the best way to get a close approximation of a rural community's composition because, until now, no one had identified which communities fell into which census tracts," Etuk said.

The Web site also has a link to ScholarsArchive@OSU, an online collection of publications by OSU faculty, students and other authors. Users simply type in keywords to find them. By typing "rural Oregon," for example, 34 publications appear, including a 2007 report about how land-use regulations have affected property values in Oregon. Users may also submit their own reports and publications to the site.

Funded by The Ford Family Foundation, the Web site is also a place where the public can submit nonfiction narratives about life in their rural communities. Etuk encourages the public to send their essays to her via e-mail or to fax them to 541-737-0999. More information, including a mailing address and writer's guidelines, is on the Web site.

The Rural Communities Explorer is part of the Oregon Explorer Web site, which OSU Libraries and the Oregon University System's Institute for Natural Resources launched last year. The Oregon Explorer site is intended to be the premier resource for decision-makers, researchers, educators and interested citizens who want to quickly find information about Oregon's natural resources. This umbrella site includes other sites focusing on land use, wildlife, wildfire risk, the Willamette Valley, Oregon's northern coast, the Umpqua Basin and aerial imagery of the state.

Author: Tiffany Woods
Source: Lena Etuk