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First World Rural

April 12 · Issue #4 · View online

First World (Rural) Problems - Bringing the 21st century past city limits.

The world is getting smaller … unless you live ‘out here’ where distance still very much matters.

Our backyard in summer 2013
Our backyard in summer 2013
Before we moved out to our acreage, we lived in a very nice suburban neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton. We had grocery stores, convenience stores, schools, churches, and recreation centres all within a very small radius. Our mail came to a ‘supermailbox’ across the street, but packages were delivered right to our door.
The flip side was that sirens could be heard at all hours due to the police station, fire station and health centre that were nearby. Traffic noise was a constant undertone to outdoor living. If our neighbours had a party, we heard it.
Still, neighbours can be a good thing. We played basketball on the crescent we lived in, we were given some naan bread by some neighbours who were baking a big batch, there was always someone available to help find our dog or to give advice on what caused the noise our car was making.
Our normal neighbourhood, back in the day.
Our normal neighbourhood, back in the day.
Cities and neighbourhoods can now be evaluated on their walkability. Our neighbourhood wouldn’t have scored very high - the retail clusters tended to be built around big-box stores with giant parking lots - but there were parks, walking/bike paths, and at least a strip mall with a convenience store and a neighbourhood pub within walking distance.
See the straight lines of my running route, thanks to the grid system.
See the straight lines of my running route, thanks to the grid system.
Out here, we can walk all we want, with miles of grid roads (easy to figure out how far you’ve walked when every corner is either one or two miles away), and we have friendly neighbours, but there are no stores or services within walking distance. I have to drive to get my mail from the local store, 5 km away. That store just recently got its gas pump working again, but we normally buy minimal amounts of gas locally and fill up when we find cheaper gas in the city, about 35 minutes away. Driving home with an almost empty tank is a no-no.
Date nights are different when you live this far out of town. Going in to the city is a regular occurrence for my wife who works as a registered nurse in the nearest hospital. Coming home, getting changed, then getting back into the car for another 45 minutes is a non-starter for her, so dates have to happen on her days off.
Then, on our way in to wherever, we drive right past several big-box retailers and we remember our shopping list. Date suppers are often $1.50 hot dogs, since we’re there anyway! We may go to an event, but we are likely unloading groceries when we get home.
I subscribe to Amazon Prime - I enjoy the music and the TV shows, I put up a bunch of sites on AWS, I store my photos there - but Prime delivery does not come to our house. Packages are either delivered to the mailbox (if it’s a book or another small item) or to the Onoway Post Office (21 km away) or a small convenience store that acts as the parcel delivery warehouse for the Onoway area. So parcels can get within 21 km of me, but wait for days until I have a reason to go into Onoway for something else.
In the meantime, I sit in my office and work all over the globe. Freelancing is a funny thing because you compete for work with everyone from everywhere, and clients come from all over. I’ve done projects for clients from Europe, Africa, Australia and all over North America. I’ve hired a freelancer from Pakistan who was living in Germany. I’ve collaborated with a designer from Argentina, on a project for a client who came up with the idea while working in Dubai, but now split his time between Toronto and Central America.
The magic of the internet is that distance no longer matters. Work can get done, conversations can happen, contracts and agreements can get signed, all while I sit in this comfortable chair in my corner office (of my log house).
Office view May 1, 2015
Office view May 1, 2015
Apps like Uber, SkipTheDishes and Lime (along with hundreds of other examples) are bringing that immediacy into the physical world. Tapping on your phone will summon an internet genie who will appear in the real world with the solution to your problem (or with the thing you just ordered). Meanwhile, out here, I can’t get a pizza delivered!
Here’s an idea. It won’t get me all the way to First World nirvana, since I choose to live outside the delivery radius of just about everyone. But it might get some of us collectively a little bit closer to the 21st century that others are experiencing.
First, create a co-op, a non-profit with a real legal identity. Give it a mailing address, so that parcels can be shipped to it.
Second, sign up your neighbours to be members of the co-op. Give each of them an ID number.
Third, agree with your other members that if you are in the area, you will pick up the co-op’s package deliveries and drop them off at your neighbour’s doorstep. If that is not likely to happen, or as a backstop, pool your membership fee and pay someone to deliver your packages to your doorstep. An app could track who’s doing the work and pay out a reasonable amount, or you could provide some other credit in the app to encourage people not to freeride.
If you are shipping something fragile or expensive, or you want to maintain some privacy from your neighbours, you can ship directly to yourself and pick it up yourself. But for the majority of packages, this gets you home delivery at the expense of a little extra work once in a while.
This could be replicated anywhere, or a single app could scale by being location-aware and grouping members within a reasonable geographical area. It depends on trust, but it also leads to interactions that facilitate trust.
Aggregation Theory argues that in the internet era, control of demand is more important than control of supply. We in rural areas are often subject to monopoly providers (of internet access, for example) or lack of providers (like pizza delivery). If we work together, we can accumulate enough demand that we can change things, making supply economical. Maybe this newsletter can be the seed of something new.
If this has made you think and you want to comment, FirstWorldRural now has a forum in place - sign up with your email address. I’ll try to make sure the forum is moderated and worth visiting. If you want to join the First World Rural Co-op, things will likely be happening in the forum.
Lots of unhappy internet customers...
Lots of unhappy internet customers...
The Internet Access Survey is still up, and we need more pins in the map!
Finally, please forward this newsletter to two or three neighbours, and let’s grow the conversation!
Thanks for reading, I’ll talk to you next week!
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David Block RR 1 Site 1 Comp 271, Onoway, Alberta, Canada T0E 1V0