Many years ago, I was sitting in a Washington DC cafe with fellow recent graduates of my university. We were all in our early 20’s and hoping that we could figure out how the world actually worked. We tried not to show it, but the truth was that none of us had had much experience with the real world up to that point, and this created a somewhat humorous setting for the type of braggadocio conversations that Mark Twain would have loved. And that was what was going on.
After a few too many glasses of wine, the question arose whether a young person aspiring to a career in politics (either as a candidate or consultant or policy wonk) should stay in Washington or go back home to the locale where he or she had political roots. Work as a staffer on the hill, for example, or work on campaigns back home. We got into quite a tussle over this.
The reason why going back home was seen as a negative was the perception that nothing interesting was happening at the local level. The interesting stuff was going on in the great national center — Washington.
In fact, that bias was not just seen in politics. It also fueled decisions of young folks to head to major urban centers like New York for a wide variety of careers. Never mind the sky high rents! That was “where the action was”. Less so in places like Wilmington, Delaware.
And these days, we still live with this mindset — that our great urban centers are “where the action is”. In Estonia, for example, you see it in the pull that the capital city Tallinn has over the rest of the country. The jobs are there! The money is there! What could go wrong? Well, I would argue that lots of things are wrong about this, and not just that folks who live outside of our great urban centers see fewer opportunities to get ahead in life.
Will this change? I think it might. Why? I would point to two reasons.
First, we know from Steve Johnson about the value of social interaction in generating great new ideas. Ideas that add value to society. That would appear to favor urban centers where you get more of it. Right? Yes, you do get more interaction in the great urban centers. But there is a problem. That interaction is by and large governed by the interests of our great, humongous institutions. Like banks. And I would argue that their agendas are not necessarily the most inspiring. They are constrained by institutional, rather than personal and societal interests. If we want to promote “creativity” and “innovation” we might consider alternative ways to do talk and think “outside the box”.
Yes, we have fallen victim to a certain tunnel vision about how societies generate new value.
Second, you might ask why localities don’t generate more interaction than you get now in urban centers? Are people in regional centers just stupid? Mute? I would argue that you get more interaction in urban centers for the simple reason that people are physically jammed together there. But if innovations in connectivity and mobility make it easier to do high level interactions over distance, one need not live in a great urban center to get that benefit.
We might start thinking more about regional ecologies than single urban ecologies.A new balance might emerge.
This sets the stage for this question — how does one upgrade regional interactions? How would one promote better connectivity and mobility within regions?
Part of the challenge is to facilitate better movement between regional centers. So, for example, one might ask how would it become easier for me in Tartu to get to other cities — Tallinn and Helsinki, etc. Also to Viljandi, Pärnu, Narva, etc. By “easier” I mean faster and less expensive.
If regional travel was easier, I could connect to a wider range of people around me. And I would be more free from the local institutional agendas of a single locale.
One might try to build high speed on the ground systems — like high speed trains. But that is very expensive. There is a much less expensive alternative that is “getting off the ground”. This post from the COO of Lillium offers a peek at how this might look in the near future.
I find it to be interesting. What about you?