The Tele-Commuter Mindset – a series

The Distributed City Model

This past weekend my wife and I visited southern Minnesota’s Bluff Country. Bluff Country really goes into Iowa and Wisconsin but I guess Minnesota came up with the name first and … well, the point is, politically defined regions and politically defined tourist areas like Bluff Country all suffer from the same problem- their inability to encompass the “thing” being described unless it is within a single jurisdictional definition. United we stand, divided we fall may be radical but the concept is clear. If you do not include the whole of the “thing” within a single political jurisdiction, there is a lesser probability that it will work effectively and serve its residents well. TCR’s Distributed City Model (DCM) is an attempt to address this fragmentation problem.

The DCM simply looks at the technology that supports the global economy and asks: How do you define a community that is scaled to be competitive in the global economy?

In Minnesota, the metropolitan area of Minneapolis-St Paul is politically defined as 7 counties. If you plot that on a globe can you see it? Probably not. This and the next few blogs will posit a new organizational structure designed to integrate the urban/rural communities into a stronger, more viable community empowered by the many telecommuting applications. But first, how do define this new entity geographically?

Using the graphic as a guide, the communications zone (the toll free calling zone now increasingly obsolete) is larger than the political definition but smaller than the housing/commuting zone. This is exceeded by the commercial orientation of residents but not by as much as the athletic fan base of the Twins and Vikings. But the largest structure is defined by the cultural orientation of the Guthrie and Ordway theaters, interestingly; this zone is reinforced as the sales territory definition by many Minneapolis-St Paul-based businesses. This seems both fitting and compelling as the reason for defining an area in the global economy. The DCM is defined by the cultural and service orientation of many communities focusing on a metropolitan core. In this case, it encompasses parts of five states and a bit of Canada.

Now within the Distributed City, TCR has gone on to look at the diversity of the living places existing within it. Clearly, in this context, we cannot talk about the viability of my home town of 1300, rather we need to structure an analysis based upon functionality and focus on the opportunities/problems common to all communities with each community type. There are six:

  1. Farms represent an industry more than a community but their economic needs typically exceed what a small town can support so they go on to the regional centers for services but cling to the small town as their point of identity.
  2. The small town residents often are oriented to these regional centers as well, many small towns are no longer economically viable, the demographics must be rebalanced or they are gone. In fact many of these small towns function as neighborhoods for the regional centers. If the small towns disappear, then the regional center becomes the new “small town”.
  3. Regional centers draw customers and workers from the small towns yet, unlike the employment/commercial centers within urban centers that support their neighborhoods, rural employment/commercial centers do not support theirs.
  4. In the urban area, there are also three types of community, the suburbs were born as a development of the freeway infrastructure and is vehicle dependent,
  5. The inner city neighborhoods really are neighborhoods and the
  6. Downtowns are critically important centers and will radically change in the next 10-20 years as global competition and technology force change in the work relationship. The key challenge is: Do they wait until this is proven or do they begin to adapt to the world of virtualization? As with most things, if you begin the transition early enough, you can avoid the major crisis; if you don’t, you don’t!

The key to the success of the DCM is the formulation of a system which provides interdependency and mutual support to ensure the viability of each community type. The necessary process is clear but the timeline is short. TCR believes that the DCM will be born as a result of the continuing developments in virtualization and a return to the “nesting” instinct of many of us. It will right-size cities and provide a renaissance to many communities that embrace the concept and that have something unique to serve as a residential draw

If people increasingly will have the opportunity to live one place and work in another, how many people would be attracted to the Bluff Country? Land is a few thousand dollars an acre with fiber optics available. Trout streams are plentiful and rolling hills are covered with trees with vistas overlooking the farmland in the valleys. Small towns have Bingo every Friday night. One has a play that they put on in a barn; Kiss Me Kate was our choice. Wednesday movies are free for the families and one town is so small that their annual parade doesn’t move, rather it just sits on the street and the onlookers get up and walk around the floats visiting with their neighbors. A local company that is over 125 years old with a distribution radius of 60 miles has now connected with an urban marketer and they plan to go national. There are many different “Bluff Countries”, will population decentralization begin? Will we build the telecommuting applications that are necessary to support this shift? Is there an interest in preserving the diversity of our community heritage?

So what do you think? Do you see an opportunity? Do you see jurisdictional roadblocks? Comments encouraged!

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Martha Garvey

Wow. This is a very interesting topic, as I am a New Jersey resident who works in Manhattan (New York, New York) who spends summers in “The Berkshires,” a lovely lake-filled, mountainous, culturally-rich place that sprawls over several states.

Christopher Parente

John — the changes you talk about are indeed profound, but the concept isn’t. It’s the old ADI — area of dominant influence, from pre-cable media days.

However, that was focused only on media, and was one way. I totally agree that multiple, sometimes unconnected local/state jurisdictions for regions will have to change for the of US of A to stay competitive.

John Sanger

curious if Martha would spend more time in the Berkshires if she could work from there if she is not already. and Christopher is right however this is not just about service but rather providing the systems to allow economic integration regardless of where you live- and then letting the market determine the level of population redistribution that may occur.

Do either of you telework now? Are you in an “approved telework job”?

Martha Garvey

Hi, John: I’m in a situation where telework is assumed. I am a website contractor who works for a federal agency (GSA) , and in a sense, I already “telework,” as my office is in New York City, and our client’s primary office is in D.C. We also work with the regional offices across the country as well. (Interestingly, “regions” typically embrace several states and/or territories.)

While my team members make regular visits to Washington, we have often worked with people we will never physically meet. (Not that I wouldn’t mind going to San Francisco!) And on a more local level, I do work at home or on the road when it’s feasible.