Monday, August 13, 2007

virtual suburbanization

the new york times has done an interesting piece on the emigration of the business class, and technology's ability for more people to work from a "location-neutral" office. in the last decade, colorado mountain towns have seen the most increase in home values along with the population increase.

“You are seeing a transformation of rural communities,” said
Jonathan Schechter, executive director of the Charture Institute in Jackson, Wyo., a nonprofit organization that studies small recreational towns. Into quiet resort spots the migrants have come, laptops on their knees: fund managers from New York, software developers from California, consultants, proofreaders, engineers, inventors. “The same processes that led to the suburbanization of the
United States after World War II,” Mr. Schechter said, “are now producing a virtual suburbanization in places like Jackson or Steamboat Springs.

there is a broad running joke amongst the people here that "no one is ever from colorado...they are all transplants..." ourselves included. the line between tourist and local is often blurred so much that the distinction is impossible. how does this affect communities? politics for one.

“...[routt] county tipped Democratic in the last election. You see the tension in the City Council. It went from being pro-business-and-development to more conservationist.” He added, “Twelve years ago, not everyone you met had a Ph.D. or was from New York. There are still a lot of locals here, but that aspect is changing.”

income is another factor. the emigrants form new york or california bring their own business with them, but not necessarily to the towns they inhabit [global business vs. local economics]. the local industries are service and tourist oriented [ski resorts, restaurants, golf courses], with other local industries being mining, drilling, quarries, ranching, and wild life conservation. the potential hazard with this situation becomes apparent through community participation. the idea of the home office is obviously not new, but the home office with a ski slope as a back yard brings a relatively new demographic to more mountain towns. not only are these people transplanting their business and families, but also their ideals of living [suburbanization]. the most remote towns geographically risk being the most exclusive towns on a sociological level[think gated community where the gate is a mountain range]. this has already become prevalent in towns like aspen, where the service industry employees have been pushed to nearby sprawl towns such as snowmass, due to the expense of living / housing in town. this creates a commute for most workers.

"...In Steamboat Springs, a pawn shop and loan store amid the expensive restaurants on the main drag illustrates the growing inequality in a region that produces few middle-income jobs. Each day 1,500 workers commute to Routt County from neighboring Moffat County, an hour away. Meanwhile, the airport, once filled with tourists, caters to people in business suits."

the fact that more people are moving here seems to indicate a desire for a slower, more relaxed quality of life compared to the urban rush encountered in manhattan or downtown l.a. can we have both inclusive communities and location-nuetral business? it seems like a bid for utopia, but the main ingredient here is technology. most people travel to the rockies to be removed from the presence of laptops, email and cell phones. but the recent proliferation has made even the most remote places have a global connection. once it was a way of life to live isolated in the frontier, returning to civilization for water, whiskey and maybe a bath. now we seek adventure in that isolation, dipping our toes into places outside the range of wi-fi, only to return to the invisible isolation of our communites.

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