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Interconnected: Forging the Ties between Rural and Urban America

On April 10 - 12th, the University of Chicago Institute of Politics will convene students, policy experts, elected officials, and practitioners from across the nation to explore the root causes of and develop solutions to urban-rural polarization.

The Conference

Over the last 20 years, communities nationwide have become islands of rural red and urban blue, and the caricatures that each holds of the other are alarming and dangerous, poisoning and paralyzing our politics.

Building off UChicago IOP's Bridging the Divide initiative, Interconnected will be a three-day convening of students from across twenty colleges and universities, forming the first rural-urban national peer network in higher education. Through site visits to Chicago’s South Side, dialogues with rural practitioners, and panel discussions with an impressive slate of national speakers, we seek to uncover:

1) How do politics and stereotypes distort and prevent meaningful rural-urban interconnection?

2) What’s at stake for our nation, our democracy, when there isn't meaningful rural-urban interconnection?

3) What solutions can be put in place to counter rural-urban division?

These questions are investigated through the lens of our six sub-themes:

Economic Disinvestment

How have trade policies, deindustrialization, and corporate consolidation contributed to economic inequality? What are the gaps, barriers, and innovations to channeling federal, philanthropic, and private capital investment to rural and inner-city communities?

Energy and Food Insecurity

Food deserts and energy-insufficient communities affect both urban and rural America. How do we meet the energy and food needs of our nation’s poor, and what does this mean for US national security, as well as our ability to combat climate change?

Local News Deserts and Misinformation

One-fifth of Americans, urban and rural, live in an area with either no local news organization, or one at risk. What does this mean for hyper-partisanship, the spread of misinformation, and the decline of local civic engagement? What promising interventions counter this trend?

The Loneliness Epidemic and Mental Health

Why are American people hurting so badly, and what is driving the public health disparities in rural and urban America?

Loss of Local Cultural, Family and Religious Identities

How are our identities formed and reflected back to us? What happens when we don’t see ourselves and our values in the future of America?

Building Rural-Urban Solidarity

What are the economic, cultural, and ecological ways urban and rural communities are interdependent? How do we build the local civic infrastructure, as well as cross regional relationships, that allow rural and urban communities to work toward a shared common good?

After the Conference

Interconnected will also offer post-conference opportunities for students to serve the places that most need their talent, playing our part as a Midwest institution in tackling the “brain drain” that plagues so many of our rural communities across the region.

Interconnected Policy Challenge & Pitch Competition

Groups of students from across the participating national universities will team up to develop a policy proposal or social venture that advances rural-urban interconnection, with a cash-winning prize.

Rural-Urban Hometown Exchanges

We will provide mini-grant opportunities for students across affiliated universities to participate in self-designed rural-urban hometown exchanges during their fall or spring breaks.


If you are interested in registering for the 2024 Interconnected Conference, please fill out the form below, and you will be notified by email when registration opens.

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