Friday, August 7, 2009

The Context, or Opportunity Space – The Urban Rural Nexus

The Context, or Opportunity Space – The Urban Rural Nexus

Traditionally urban and rural are viewed as two separate entities competing for resources. In actuality it is a whole system.
Rural economics are dependent on an influx of dollars from the city. Cities are dependent on rural places for food, water, fiber, natural resource protection and for leisure and recreational respites. In other words the two are inextricably linked. Diagram 2 below presents what we call the Rural – Urban Nexus which illustrates the dynamic interchange and interdependencies.

The challenge for rural places is real. Geography and supplying various services to rural places has been a constant
challenge because services need to be extended across distances, without the “critical mass” of customers which will pay for the services. Cities inherently have better access to services, but one could a
rgue that the quality of life is not necessarily better. Much could be written about this conundrum, which is not the point of this paper. The key issue is to introduce the “opportunity space” for extending services to rural places, and to identify how urban centers and rural places are dependent on each other for ultimate survival. In a way this paper suggests first recognizing the interdependencies and secondly to build a bridge for enhancing the opportunities that are presented to support this important dynamic relationship. That bridge can be built via the Internet.

It is critical to extend services to rural communities, and, with the advent of the Internet, it ca
n be viable economically to do so. There are cases of businesses that realized the rural opportunity such as Wal-Mart and Dollar General. Both became highly profitable. However, these examples do little justice to the opportunity that we intend to develop by extending services, education and empowerment tools and resources to support the local citizenry of rural communities to be grown from the community itself. The overall potential for success in building this bridge, in combination with the “systems approach” for managing negative impacts more effectively, is tremendous and not just economically, but more importantly for the quality of life.

Diagram 2: The Urban – Rural Nexus – Building the Bridge

In Diagram 2 we highlight the provision of a group of services and information to empower rural communities (starting upper left). The key to this diagram is the process of extending services to rural regions and communities which have been historically underserved. The large 90 degree arrow points to the desired outcomes: the bringing of hope, inspiration and ultimately empowerment to individuals where success is ultimately grounded. The upper right quadrant of the diagram depicts the interdependent relationships between rural and urban places.

The bullet points in the bottom left of the diagram highlights that entities previously have extended services before and have been successful. However, our new opportunity is even greater with the advent of the Internet. In fact, we often point out that our new success will not be based on consumerism, selling people a bunch of stuff, but on providing resources to empower people through education and the various “empowerment tools” to capitalize the inherent capital available in all places a) people, 2) the natural resource endowment, and 3) the history and culture of the place.

Finally, the last point in the bottom right of the diagram is included for those who would argue that private landowners cannot or will not protect the natural environment. This observation is true to an extent. However, our experience working in Texas which is almost exclusively privately owned is that landowners love their land. And if they end up causing damages it is usually a result of ignorance. We observed that as land management education was made available to these people it was taken up and implemented with impressive success. The primary point of the statement in Diagram 2 about government agencies is that first, there is not the political will to make enough “effective” land management agencies for all lands, and secondly if there was, it would be such a huge endeavor it would almost surely fail. We have examples of this in the United States such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the effectiveness of these organizations for managing the vast resources under their watch is dubious at best.

A basic fact could be stated as we look at the rural-urban question: not every one can live in the city! Nor would we want them to. One need only look at history to see what happens when too many people live in close proximity.

However, as one looks at economic pressures on the average rural citizen there appears to be significant challenges to be able to “stay on the land”, so to speak. And pressures continue to grow on urban centers as mass exoduses occur from rural areas of people hoping to find a better life, especially in developing countries.

However, there are some deviations to these trends in places like the United States. Where people have freed themselves financially, there are growing numbers that are moving from the city to rural places, and/or buying second homes there. Some investigators are highlighting that rural places are flourishing. Needless to say as one travels in rural communities whether it is in the United States or any country there appears to be some level of revitalization. Nonetheless, in our observations, problems are still ubiquitous, especially for the poor. These problems can especially be seen in communities that have historically been on the fringe, economically, socially or geographically (e.g. urban) or are in areas of racial diversity.

Further stymieing the process of agencies or corporations extending services by that the efforts are “silo’ized” (discussed in detail in Extracting Knowledge and Converting below) . Each entity (agency) segments their area of service and only tries to push a narrow set of ideas/programs onto their constituents – almost always utilizing a “top-down” approach. Efforts are fragmented and lack quality and substance. We can cite innumerable cases. In the process they are using up precious financial resources that could be better utilized by cooperating with other agencies and programs that not only extend services from the top down, but start to build from “grass-roots”. Often the agencies and institutions have policies to share and collaborate with other organizations, or to make what they offer more germane and effective through cooperation, but in the end we would argue this usually only is presented as “lip-service”.

The time has come to bring more value and substance in the programs and services that are offered in the spirit of cooperation and efficiency, and utilizing new technologies. Drivers for this process go beyond the traditional, almost
exclusive economic drivers to include things like, environmental sustainability, enhancing the “quality of life”, innovation and inspiration in business and agriculture, creativity, enthusiasm, human connections, passion, spirit, intuition, etc.

In summary, some important points to consider when evaluating the “Rural – Urban Nexus”

- Rural landowners can provide much needed land and natural resource management, even if the “public will” was to create agencies to provide “land management” it is highly cost prohibitive, plus the performance of these agencies for long-term “protection”, from a historical perspective, is really abysmal.
- Rural areas are necessary for the “recreation respite”, from the high paced, stressful lifestyle of cities. Nature is truly necessary for adequate rest and revitalization and large, quiet natural areas are not normally found in cities.
- Plenty of solutions are available in educational institutions and agencies that can be utilized to cope with to the rural economic, social and environmental conundrum. The key is to develop the ways/means to extend these services.
- There is a tremendous opportunity to create a new service paradigm for “Extension education” via the Internet and technology tools.
- Value comes from real solutions. There are numerous “success stories” at various scales from around the globe by which general principles can be derived and then those strategies adapted to various contexts.

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