Rural and Urban: Little Differences Show Different Priorities

Laws can be confusing. Not only are they created by many different entities, they may change depending on the area to which they apply. The reason the basic differences exist is that issues differ based on the type of environment in which people live, such as rural or urban. So, while some laws are general and apply to everyone, some are specific to certain areas.

Laws: Federal to Local

According to Law Help, an online legal resource, Federal laws apply to everyone that lives in the United States, as written in the United States Constitution. However, laws that aren't covered by the Constitution are left up to the states. As a result, states may add rules and regulations in addition to those already established by the federal government, and these state laws apply to the entire state. As a result, where federal law is uniform across the country, state-specific laws apply only to particular states. What is legal in one state may not be in another. This applies also to localities. Laws not covered by the federal government or the state government may be created on the local level, which is where a significant difference often occurs. The difference in rural to urban -- for example, from Louisville to Pikeville -- is often substantial, as the lifestyles are so different.

Difference by Definition

The difference is primarily because of the makeup of the communities. The U.S. Census Bureau defines an urban area as an area containing 50,000 people or more; rural areas are all "population, housing, and territory not included in an urban area."


While a majority of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, rural areas take up considerably more space. The data site What-When-How reports that roughly 70 percent of the country's land mass and an estimated 20 percent of the total population are in rural areas (or counties that have less than 50,000 people that are not connected to an urban area). Urban clusters, while still considered rural, count differently. More than 75 percent of the 3,100 or so counties in the U.S. are rural. With this disparity in population, and the differences in lifestyles and priorities, there is significant room for differing law enforcement emphasis.

A Kentucky Comparison

A prime example is between Louisville, the biggest city in Kentucky, with 755,000 people in the city and 1.34 million in the metropolitan area (according to World Population Review) and Pikeville, with roughly 7,000 people.

Liquor Laws

Probably the most obvious example of differing laws between the two areas involves liquor laws. In Louisville, liquor may be served from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m., making it one of the most liquor-accessible cities not just in the state, but in the country. Liquor may also be served from 1 p.m. to 4 a.m. on Sundays.

In contrast, liquor is not so available in Pikeville. According to the city ordinances, the number of licenses, overall, for retail liquor is limited to 13. In those establishments, it is illegal to sell alcohol from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Monday; 1 a.m. to 8 a.m., Tuesday through Friday; 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Saturday; and 2 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays.

Small Laws Make Big Differences

The differences may seem small, but when considered in conjunction with other laws, the small differences add up and contribute to a cultural picture of the community in which the laws are applied.