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What's urban? What's rural?

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Canada's 32 million people are unevenly distributed over 9 million square kilometres. Most live on about 15% of the land that stretches along our southern border. We are one of the world's most sparsely populated countries, with about three people per square kilometre. The United States, with a slightly smaller land area, has a population density almost 10 times greater.

Canada's demographic landscape looked quite different in 1901. Most people lived on farms and only 37% in urban areas. By 1951, as Canada industrialized, 57% of the population lived in an urban area (minimum population 1,000 with a density of at least 400 people per square kilometre).

Map: Statistical Area Classification, 2001By 2001, even more Canadians had left the farm: four out of five lived in an urban area and nearly two out of three lived in a census metropolitan area-an area consisting of one or more adjacent municipalities situated around a major urban core. To form a census metropolitan area, the urban core must have a population of at least 100,000.

So then what is rural today? At its most basic, rural is defined as everything outside urban areas. But since many rural residents commute to jobs in cities and have access to urban amenities, it can be difficult to draw a line.

In one definition, Statistics Canada defined rural and small town as outside the commuting zone of larger urban centres, outside census metropolitan areas and outside other urban areas with a core population of 10,000 or more.

Geographers recognize that many people who work in an urban core live outside it, and commute each day to their jobs. A strong metropolitan influence zone (MIZ) means that 30% or more of the employed labour force of a rural and small town area commute to an urban core. A moderate MIZ indicates between 5% and 30% make the daily commute to the city, whereas a weak influence means that just 0% to 5% of workerscommute.