The struggling small towns, which lost so many people, first and foremost the young talented ones, to the big cities, will be thriving again with the already started wave of remote work.
The entire world is in a long phase of urbanization (see also these UN report: 2014 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects from my post How remote work supports the health of our planet). But it is not only the movement from rural landscapes to cities – it is especially the skilled people, who have to move from small towns to the big cities to get proper jobs. That is the same in the US, North and Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and even Africa. And there are also some decreasing metropolitan areas; to name only two examples: the Rust Belt in the US and the Ruhr area in Germany, which were strong in coal mining and steel industry.
You can see the same pattern everywhere: Young people move away from home after finishing high school or studying to find higher education and work in big cities. And everywhere you see the big travel movement for christmas, chinese new year or the other big holiday breaks, when singles, couples and young families are travelling to their families to be together for a few days.
But why will that change? Because of the advent of remote work. I am explaining the rise of remote work in all my other posts, but take this as summary: The Ultimate List of Remote Work Pros and Cons. Because it effects so many parts of our lifes, we should name it a new industry. With so many known advantages, it is clear that the remote industry will introduce itself even faster than the digital revolution.
Everyone with a location independed job can choose a place to live and work. There will be people, who want to live at their home town, at the place where relatives live (if it is not the same) or they will choose a ‘nice’ spot. Some will stay in big cities, because of amenities like good travel connections or cultural offerings. But the big movement will go from overcrowded cities where housing is expensive, the air is polluted and traffic is a nightmare to small towns, while some of them are already looking like ghost towns.
We all need communities, and nearly all of us love the community of family, friends and neighbours where we grew up. So it is easy to guess, that a lot of people will move back to their home towns. And the returning inhabitants bring demand for services and spending capacity which will not only keep some dying small community alive, these towns will be literally reinvigorated.
Imagine the young high potential graduate who can still take care of an elderly family member and start a significant job from home. Or imagine a young family with remote working mom and dad, who are enabled to live in their small home town, neighbouring parents and other relatives to give their children the same feeling of ‘home’ like they experienced years before.
All the others, who are not tied or not tied yet will choose a nice spot, which is affordable, has good weather and other amenities like security. In general that will be the holiday regions. There will also be much movement between these areas, because the migration will start again when the locations get crowded, which ends the quite and also rises living costs and traffic.
The vacation spots will get nomads, who are passing by on the one hand and new residents, who are settling down, on the other hand. It is important to grow the infrastructure to handle them in a balance with minimal destruction of the nature to keep the place attractive.
Responsibility of towns
The towns have to stop trying to attract big companies or manufactoring jobs. That will be a waste of time and money. Fred Perrotta explains it well with an US example here: No Jobs are Coming: How Remote Work Can Save Small Towns. Also the comments by Kristi E. DePaul, Michael DeHart and Deb Dutton are very well said.
The better way is attracting remote workers to move (back) to the town and reorganizing the infrastructure for the new situation. There will be an increase in service jobs if the population is growing again. But the actual residents should not rely on only that. They should be trained in the use of remote work tools and how to get a digital job with their capabilities.
Responsibility of big cities
First of all, the cities have to take it seriously. Lots of them are highly dependent on a few big companies (be it blue or white collar jobs), which is very dangerous. Germany has a number of cities which are highly dependent on big car manufacturers. Take Wolfsburg with Volkswagen for example. The treasurer of Wolfsburg declared a spending freeze at the day ‘Dieselgate’ went public, because they knew that VW whould not pay extensive taxes anymore. They will have to deal with unemployment soon, because of the radical shift to electric cars, where Volkswagen will loose market share and lots of employees.
It is way better for cities to have a huge bulk of remote employees which work for many companies in different industries and even different countries. That is the best insurance against economic risk. Cities are still attracting big companies to get new jobs, but soon they will try to attract remote workers.
Big cities have to reinvent themself to keep a meaning. They have to take care of air pollution, traffic, security and they have to spend a lot for green infrastructure, parks and entertainment to be attractive in a very new competition.
If you are able to choose: Do you want to live in a big city or in a town? Let us know in the comments section!