February 25, 2014 By Louis Zacharilla
(This is a guest blog by Norman Jacknis) As readers of this blog know, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years helping cities figure out the impact of new technologies and broadband in people’s lives and also helping mayors figure out ways of using those technologies to create new kinds of urban experiences and reasons for people to live in their cities.
Cities were the winners out of the industrial age and attracted vast numbers of people from the countryside. You can see that pattern repeating itself today in the newly successful industrial countries, like China, or those areas that are just starting to industrialize, like Africa.
In the already developed countries, even though the change from the industrial to the knowledge economy has been wrenching for many cities, urban areas are still ahead of the game by comparison with rural areas and cities are better positioned to take advantage of these changes.
In theory, though, the global Internet and the increased availability of inexpensive technology should have had an even greater impact on rural areas. For if it were really true that people can work anywhere and quality of life becomes the key factor in where they choose to live, then many people would choose to live in the countryside and not in the more metropolitan regions.
It hasn’t happened that way. As you can read from my post last week which, among other trends, noted that telecommuting has increased dramatically among urban residents, but not for those in exurbia.
There are many reasons why the countryside hasn’t realized its potential. Partly, this is a residue of the industrial age – it is not yet true for everyone that they can take their work with them. For many without college educations, making a living requires a commute to a manufacturing plant or a service location.
As has been true for declining urban areas, we see in some rural communities a social pathology sets in that reinforces decline and is evidenced in the increased use of drugs and other forms societal breakdown. Even though it wouldn’t be called a pathology, the out-migration of many of their young adults has also been a concern of the remaining residents of rural areas.
Another part of the story is that many rural communities have not yet become fully connected to the global economy. In his recent rural strategy announcements, President Obama pointed out that there is a 15% gap in broadband between urban and rural households. Many technology providers have ignored rural communities. That should change. Rural communities are all too often ignored by urban dwellers and far too many people are not fully aware of the far reaching potential that 21st century technology offers rural communities.
While cities will still be attractive, they are not for everyone all the time. Many people would indeed prefer to live in the countryside if they had economic opportunity, decent health care, a means to learn and in other ways overcome the sense of isolation that has historically been the downside of rural living.
Many countries have come to realize that they cannot just move all of their rural residents into cities. As India has learned, there is not enough economic opportunity in their cities and the urban infrastructure cannot support the migrants who have already moved there. The New York Times recently reported that, even the Chinese, with a relentless urban focus, have started to worry that their nation’s traditional culture and identity is getting lost in the process. Indeed, there has been a reverse migration from the cities to the Chinese countryside.
None of this is a surprise to those who live in rural communities. What may be better news is that there is now an imperative to bring technology and global connectivity to the countryside – and to help them build those communities into attractive and sustainable places for people to stay and to return to.
We’ve seen this in President Obama’s rural broadband program and in the recently announced Canadian rural broadband investment of $305 million.
With this background, the Intelligent Community Forum started its Rural Imperative program last year. It will apply to the world’s rural areas the Intelligent Community Forum’s unique, global perspective on how broadband and technology can be mutually reinforcing with community development and growth. This is an important step in helping the new connected countryside go from potential possibility to a reality.
About the Intelligent Community Forum
The Intelligent Community Forum is a think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st Century community. Whether in industrialized or developing nations, communities are challenged to create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a world where jobs, investment and knowledge increasingly depend on advances in communications. For the 21st Century community, connectivity is a double-edge sword: threatening established ways of life on the one hand, and offering powerful new tools to build prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economies on the other. ICF seeks to share the best practices of the world's Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of the Broadband Economy, in order to help communities everywhere find sustainable renewal and growth. More information can be found at www.intelligentcommunity.org.
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.
ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum's leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. The author of numerous articles in planning and economic development journals, he has received global and Toronto-based awards for his work in collaboration and strategic development and sits on numerous task forces and international advisory boards.
ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla is the creator and presenter of the annual Smart21, Top Seven and Intelligent Community Awards and oversees ICF's media communications and development programs. He is a frequent keynote and motivational speaker and panelist, addressing audiences of tech, academic and community leaders around the world, and writes extensively for publications including American City & County, Continental Airline's in-flight magazine and Municipal World. His frequent appearances in the electronic media have included both television and radio in South Korea, China and Canada. He has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York and is a Guest Lecturer at Polytechnic University's Distinguished Speaker Series. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Notre Dame.