City Mouse or Country Mouse?

Sometimes we need reminders of what we already know to be true. Our confidence and our fortitude, when challenged on a regular basis, can suffer strain and can lead to self-doubt and inaction.

Rural communities around the world are stressed and suffering from the strain of living in, what some are calling, “the age of cities.” An article, written a year ago and published in the Torontoist, posed the intentionally provocative statement “Imagine we looked at small towns as more than quaint weekend retreats for the wealthy and bored” While I admit the question got under my skin, it provided a reminder of what I already knew.

I’m living in Rural on Purpose and I know why I’m here. For all of the focus on densification and smart cities, it feels an awful lot like the biggest urban trends are about “small,” with walkable neighbourhoods, cycling, farmers markets, community gardens, craft food and beverages, co-working and meet-ups. Cities are trying to recreate the kind of authentic, grounded connection to people and environment that small towns offer.

I wish I could say that our struggles are about growth but they’re not; they’re about not losing any more of what we already have. For a number of reasons, our population base is declining and that has translated into a lower quality of life for many. The panicked reaction of small towns everywhere has been to position our communities as alternatives to urban living, with lower housing costs and waterfront properties for a steal. We offer financial incentives we often can’t afford, to large corporations to set up shop and employ people, until it’s no longer in their best interest and they leave. We guilt and bribe our teenagers to stay put instead of letting them decide for themselves where they want to contribute their talents and energy.

We have to be careful that we don’t get exactly what we asked for — a community of people who didn’t pick us first and aren’t invested in our future.

Rural communities deserve to be the first choice of everyone who lives in them. It’s the only way we’re going to build strong, contributing economies.

I’m not denying that the challenges we face are significant; but human beings have consistently proven that constraints are only catalysts for innovation. Rural communities are not going to become a thing of the past. Economists have made dire predictions time and time again based on trending statistics. In the late 1800’s experts predicted that the largest cities in the world would be drowning in horse manure based on the increased population and the number of horses needed to move people around. Urban centres were doomed; but of course cars replaced horses. Economists were unable to account for future innovation.

One of our biggest challenges is still consistent and universal Internet. Rural regions need this connectivity. It’s critical to our growth and development — it will provide access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities; and, with the CRTC declaring broadband Internet an essential service this past December, the pressure is on to deliver. Solutions for rural are on their way with technology innovations like Project Loon, currently using stratospheric balloons to deliver basic internet service to hurricane stricken Puerto Rico. Much like the urban manure crisis in the late 1800’s, we may not know what the solutions will be but we can trust that they are being developed.

Our greatest resource in rural is still, and will always be, our people — people who have made the conscious choice to live in small communities and contribute. People who are living in Rural on Purpose are fearlessly optimistic and are the ones bravely creating our future. Invest in us, and when the pendulum begins swings back, and people are trying to escape cities for a deeply connected and grounded life where they can have an impact, our next problem will be too much growth.

Are you living in Rural on Purpose?