The Internet Is Already Reinvigorating The Countryside

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) held its annual summit last week in Columbus, Ohio.  As I’ve done in the last couple of years, I ran a workshop for small cities and rural areas.

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Unlike
past years, this time I didn’t only focus on the potential that the
Internet provides for the countryside, but also showed the ways that
some – but not all – of those communities are already being
reinvigorated.  This post will provide a summary of my presentation
during the first half of the workshop.

In addition to the
usual background about ICF, I let people know of the establishment of a
new ICF Institute that is specifically devoted to the study of rural
communities.  It’s based at Mississippi State University and is led by
Professor Roberto Gallardo.

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I quickly outlined the reasons why
changes in technology and the economy enable small towns and rural areas
to flourish again in this century:

  • Now and in the future, size and clusters count less than connections
  • Broadband enables economic growth in the way that proximity enabled urban economic growth in the industrial era
  • An
    ever increasing percentage of people can make a living by providing
    intangible products and services that can be delivered from anywhere to
    anywhere
  • A life-long 9 to 5 job in a big company is being pushed aside by the freelance economy
  • Visual communication will intensify the trends — although we are still only in the early stages of its use

But
I noted that only some small towns and rural areas have taken advantage
of these factors.  As a result, growth is very uneven in the
countryside as reported  by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Then
I reviewed the kinds of community building services that the leaders,
in contrast to the laggards, are providing on top of their broadband and
technology foundation.

That was all prelude to the main topics of the day:

  • the
    development of a new urban exodus by digital millennials from high-tech
    cities into those parts of the countryside that provide both a better
    quality of life as well as Internet connectivity
  • the need for
    residents of the countryside to participate in the global economy and
    not limit their horizons to their local areas or even just their region

The new urban exodus to the countryside is a phenomenon that is not only in

the US, but has also occurred in France and the UK.  Nor is it like the migration to exurban homes of more than a decade ago.  As a Pew study has reported:

But
to call these rural hot spots “exurban,” Garreau said, is missing the
point.  As he sees it, today’s urban exiles aren’t looking for a lengthy
commute from the far suburbs to a downtown office.  They’re seasoned
professionals with big incomes who’ve grown tired of the urban rat race,
he said.  They’re looking to completely eradicate the notion of
commuting to work and toiling from 9 to 5.  Rich greenery and wide-open
vistas are a must.

For a better understanding of this phenomenon, I showed a few minutes from Alissa Hessler’s very compelling video explaining what her Urban Exodus website and life is like.

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Then
I reviewed the evidence showing the greater growth path for those
participating in the global economy, even in rural areas.  However,
rural residents are at a competitive disadvantage compared to their city
cousins if they try to do this in isolation.

For that reason, I
emphasized the need for rural residents to achieve scale and influence
by working together in a kind of virtual metropolis
or global virtual
Chamber of Commerce where they can meet and, more important, find
business partners, services and even customers.  Partly, this can work
is because it is also built on the shared experience and perspective
that comes from living in the countryside.

If you or the residents
of your community are interested in joining in this virtual metropolis,
please contact me – njacknis at intelligent community dot org.

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© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

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