Small Town Life is an Option

The COVID-19 quarantine has crushed so many small businesses and the economy at large. It’s truly been the worst financial crisis unfurling in this country in recent memory. And while some measures are in place to help so that this does not reach that level of despair, many people are increasingly finding themselves out of jobs.

But is there a silver lining? Yebo yes!

“Work From Home” Will prompt More People to Experience Small Town Life

Two weekends ago I had a necessary family errand that took me out of the city and out of Gauteng. I passed through a few small ‘sleepy’ towns in Mpumalanga.  I had to refuel in one and had to stop for a snack at the other. While snacking at the second town, I began to feel the freshness of its spaces, its people .and got inspired…

The whole “work from home” part of quarantine has shown a lot of employers and employees a path to choosing where they want to live. In a system that no longer requires “butt in chair” management, why would someone choose some of the big cities out there? Would you rather look out on some fields or forests, or listen to cars honking all night long?

But when some of these folks come to a small-town setting, they’ll get exposed (maybe for the first time) to the power of a small-town localized community. Maybe they won’t be able to visit the opera every weekend and maybe the little grocery store doesn’t have a big selection of breads and cheeses (how many bread choices do we need?), but the sense that everyone is working together and everyone knows each other is a very alluring opportunity.

 This Will Drive More Small Business Opportunities

The easy example is that delivery businesses thrive when city types show up at a small town. People are used to convenience living, and if those services don’t quite exist in the small-town setting, you can step in and fill a gap.

Another way to serve this relocation migration that may come at the start of 2021 is to find and adapt coworking spaces, even if they’re more “six feet apart” than they would have been a few months ago. These spaces will need great Wi-Fi, space to spread out and work, and a little kitchen space. Not a lot of investment really.

Big cities were the way to go for a long while. Then suburbs. Small towns were “unsexy” for some time. But it’s the right time to show off the power of the small town brand and how you can help grow the world not that far from your front porch.

Urban Bias

Recently I was fortunate enough to catch a webinar with Luther Snow talking about the asset approach and positive development.

Given my rural origins Snow’s thinking resonates with me on this subject. Snow started by addressing the prevalent “urban bias”: if the way things happen in the concentrated centre is what matters everywhere.

Urban bias is evident in:

  • centralized meetings
  • traditional land economics (high price = high value)
  • poverty rate, measured by concentration of people
  • place targeting
  • preference for institutional and professional efforts over volunteer efforts
  • focusing on economies of scale

We, rural people, sometimes adopt urban bias, leading us to say things like:

  • we are small
  • isolated
  • do not have much
  • we are just volunteers, no jobs

We can choose how we look at things. We, rural people, have assets.

What is “rural”?

Ruralness just means we are spread out, Snow said.

Being spread out is not an automatically negative characteristic. In fact, we can choose to see rural or small-town people as:

  • independent
  • resourceful
  • entrepreneurial
  • creative
  • innovative
  • interdependent
  • rely on neighbours
  • collaborative and networked
  • Independent + Interdependent = Networked

Snow contrasted the “concentrated” or urban view versus a more “networked” or rural point of view in several ways:  

Concentrated: central meeting location
Networked: rotating meeting locations, online meetings

Concentrated: big industrial firm
Networked: industrial corridor

Concentrated: tourism destination
Networked: tourism trail

Concentrated: poverty concentration
Networked: poverty awareness and accessibility

Concentrated: economies of scale
Networked: economies of networks (the way the internet works, or a farmer’s market)

Post Covid-19 Opportunity

Off course Snow would have had a different “Rural” in mind to one I am most familiar with in the African context – where infrastructure in small town and rural communities is a big challenge. Which partly explains the huge urban migration that we witness each year – I am one such statistic- some twenty odd years ago.

However, Covid-19 might still just be the needed catalyst that will spark a migration to smaller towns – for better quality of life, for more affordable livelihoods and for restarts in many peoples’ entrepreneurial journeys. The digitalisation of the economy makes it possible to operate many businesses from practically anywhere where there is access to adequately infrastructure like power, internet, and logistics.

I personally know several people (family and friends) who have left the city and “gone back home” because of the WFH phenomenon. Some are considering long term arrangements with their employers – they have tasted the huge living cost savings this brings to their already constrained family budgets.

Resourceful and innovative entrepreneurs should see many opportunities in addressing the needs of workers and other entrepreneurs who are moving away from big cities…local authorities should embrace the opportunity to create more vibrant local economies and livelihoods. 

What do you think about relocating to a small town?

Keep the face mask on. Thank you.

Sifiso Ndwandwe
ED

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