Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Gateway Effect

When flying over the country, it’s hard not to notice the tremendous extent to which the country is covered by farm land. The scale of plowed fields on the landscape is of a magnitude far larger than the idyllic quilt-like landscape of Europe. Each tract in a typical mid-west farm would have enough space to contain a sizeable urban neighborhood. But what of the neighborhood in the farming towns, where the population gets steadily older? The very mechanized nature of farming in America has led to the gradual emptying of agricultural towns, with young people often moving to cities for work and migrant workers traveling from state to state ready to do back-breaking work on the fields, agri-business expanding the scale of farming while diminishing the number of workers needed. With all of this demographic change one wonders what the future holds for farming communities.

Change often comes from the most unusual places, and this article points to the emergence of information technology as possible source of hope for America’s rural communities. The information revolution that kicked into high gear following the widespread use of the internet has indeed introduced something revolutionary to the way humans make decisions on where to live. The industrial revolution favored centralization with the railroad, the factory town and the emergence of a financial sector that raised capital and speculated on properties at a heretofore unseen scale. Now the trend is towards greater decentralization, with new telecommunication technologies permitting individuals to work wherever they choose. Proximity still offers its advantages, but now internet retail sites and the competitive business of parcel delivery cancels out the need to go to stores and shop constantly. The attractive allure of low-cost real estate in rural towns makes taking a pay-cut in salary acceptable. This is already beginning to happen, as some tech workers displaced by foreign outsourcing have become resourceful.

This new phenomena has already been observed by Joel Kotkin, an urban sociologist whose views are contrary to much mainstream opinion.
Here are some additional perspectives on "the new ruralism."

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