Three Legal Approaches to Rural Economic Development

17 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2014 Last revised: 1 Jul 2014

See all articles by Stephen R. Miller

Stephen R. Miller

University of Idaho College of Law - Boise

Date Written: June 5, 2014


Rural life has long been vaunted in American culture for its moral compass, hardworking spirit, and sense of community and place. At the same time, the percentage of Americans living in rural communities has been shrinking for generations, and American life has been predominantly urban for over a hundred years. In turn, America has fretted — since the country’s very inception — about the effects of urbanization on rural life, and in turn, how the loss of rituals of rural life would affect society generally. These changes in rural life are redoubled by a massive shift in rural economies since World War II: agriculture, once synonymous with the rural way of life, has become so efficient that it no longer serves as a viable source of jobs for rural people despite providing record profits for agricultural corporations.

This symposium essay takes on these challenges presented to rural economies by sketching out several roles law can play in rural economic development efforts. As rural economic development law depends upon both national and regional contexts, the essay first provides a background summary of the status of rural America. The essay then proceeds to provide background on the practice of rural economic development as it has traditionally been practiced. Finally, the essay sketches three effective legal approaches to rural economic development: “bottom up” planning mandates; redefining plans, zoning and other codes to reflect non-agricultural economic production; and identifying evaluating and disclosing risks of government involvement in rural economic development.

Keywords: land use planning, land use, economic development, rural, agriculture, zoning, comprehensive plans, economic development planning

Suggested Citation

Miller, Stephen R., Three Legal Approaches to Rural Economic Development (June 5, 2014). Kansas Journal of Law & Pubic Policy, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2014. Available at SSRN:

Stephen R. Miller (Contact Author)

University of Idaho College of Law - Boise ( email )

514 W. Jefferson St
Boise, ID 83702
United States
208-364-4559 (Phone)
208-344-2176 (Fax)

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