What is Urban Extension?

There is, of course, an easy answer.  Urban Extension is CES work performed in urban areas.  Such a reply, while ostensibly true, lacks a descriptive understanding of why the question matters at all.  An accurate answer must consider what urban areas are and why the distinction between urban and rural is worth considering in terms of CES work.

Ninety-eight percent of growth in the hundred largest cities since 2000 was from growth in minority populations.— Nicole DuPuis [1]

This quote illustrates one of the characteristics that distinguishes work in Urban Extension – diversity of all sorts is rising across the nation, but particularly in America’s metropolitan areas.  Add to that the fact that the nation’s population is rapidly shifting toward cities, creating a massive surge in urbanization, and it is easy to understand at least one aspect of Urban Extension that differs from its rural counterparts — the numbers served by CES staff working in cities are immensely larger, requiring different approaches for success.

Similarly, there is a diversity of governmental jurisdictions within cities,  and the interests and work of city, county, regional, and even state officials intersect across multiple complex issues, including planning and economic development, as well as health, social, and educational services.  Finally, there are many nonprofits operating in these areas, sometimes acting as competitors to CES, sometimes as partners and collaborators.

Perhaps the largest difference between rural and urban areas, however, is hidden behind assumptions.  Problems that appear the same in both places actually spring from different causes, and require different solutions.  Water quality, for instance — polluted water in rural areas often stems from agriculture, whereas in the city it’s related to waste from industry, homeowners, and stormwater runoff (Ruemenapp, 2018)[2].  Extension desperately needs to recognize this disparity in order to utilize the correct expertise, programming, and solutions to resolve these issues.

Yet, despite these differences, rural and urban and suburban areas are tightly interconnected through economic, social, and environmental needs.  “Complex issues do not stop at rural county lines or a city boundary”[3], and neither does the work of CES, whether urban or rural in source.  Extension understands these intersecting relationships better than most organizations, and the National Urban Extension Leaders (NUEL) holds that it is the work of Urban Extension to acknowledge and support and advance those interdependencies, to the benefit of both rural and urban areas.

However, due to the distinctions listed above, the work of CES staff in metropolitan areas requires a diverse set of skills and capabilities not commonly expected of Extension’s rural professionals, and developing those competencies is the focus of this eFieldbook and the IC Summit for which it was produced.


[1] DuPuis, Nicole. “America’s Fastest Growing Cities Are Becoming More Diverse, But Face Rising Inequity.” CitiesSpeak, National League of Cities, 5 Apr. 2019, citiesspeak.org/2019/04/05/americas-fastest-growing-cities-are-becoming-more-diverse-but-face-rising-inequity/.

[2] Ruemenapp, M. A. (2018). Factors influencing delivery of Cooperative Extension Service programs to urban audiences. Michigan State University.

[3] Henning, J., Buchholz, D., Steele, D., & Ramaswamy, S. (2014). Milestones and the future for cooperative extension. Journal of Extension, 52(6), 6COM1. Retrieved from http://www.joe.org/joe/2014december/comm1.php#introduction