Rural Ireland Must … “Innovate Or Die!”
Rural Ireland must …Or Die!. This may sound a little over dramatic until you make a connection as I did recently. I was conducting research for a thought experiment which forms the basis for my masters. My thesis is framed as a question, “How can create shared ?”. What was more surprising was how my journey would first begin in my own community of county Tipperary in Ireland. On route, I found myself drawing parallels with Japanese small town communities. These small town communities are struggling to rebuild 5 years after the disasters of 311 (March 11th 2011). I had found myself a long way from Tipperary.
All journeys begin at home
What follows is some of the research I encountered on route. I will explore a landscape of possible opportunities for furtherbefore journeys end. As with all journeys, we must begin ours in my local community in county Tipperary, Ireland. I began my early research by seeking out measurable data which would size two of the three big problems worth fixing. The three big problems I had identified would require even bigger solutions.
From job seekers gaining a foot hold …
Persistently high unemployment rates and shrinking town centre footfall may be signally the slow demise of rural living in small town Ireland. Nine such towns in county Tipperary are now being called to action to combine their common shared social and commercial interests. This unprecedented collaboration will seek to focus efforts on enhancing town centre sharedcreation for mutual and wider community gain. The initial key objectives are to reverse the decreasing downward trend of falling consumer footfall.
To … falling consumer footfall is now consuming small town business
The majority of small and micro businesses in town centres rely on all year round retail sales from local consumers to sustain a level of viability and fight off job losses and closure. Some estimates suggest that rural unemployment within the ranks of local consumers could be in excess of 20% in many county Tipperary towns and villages. The interdependent relationship of town centre businesses and full time employed local consumers could be viewed as a symbiotic relationship.
In a globalised world of on-line shopping, suburban retail parks and long distance shopping, the falling footfall in town centre retail outlets may be signally the need for major change in rural Ireland. This major change may require creativethinking on a scale only matched by the size of the problems to be overcome.
Climbing mountains of research but where’s the data?
I hypothesised that the problems of rural Ireland are unlikely to be unique. It has been widely suggested that the unemployment rates are higher in county Tipperary than the national average rates for unemployment. It has also been widely written about that most small town centres in rural Ireland are now in decline. Retail experts claim that town centre retail business declines are in-line with declining consumer foot fall. But where is the data to support such conclusions?
Ask and you shall receive
It was time to call on the search expertise of Mr Google. Mr Google sat ready on my computer screen so I politely queried him. I wanted to skim the surface, be lazy and just ask if he knew about community sustainability in the face of extreme adversity. I had hope to find existing publications, books or articles on the topic. It was my intention to return later and take a deeper dive as a part of my search for valuabledata worthy of citation. I was hoping to avoid drowning neck deep in academic journals, research papers and databases. I was looking for a more agile approach to capturing a quick snapshot of the entire landscape of rural Ireland at this very early stage of my journey.
Be careful what you wish for …
As I thrashed around an ocean of results I made a mad grab for a news segment on YouTube which was just showing above the waterline. Little did I know that it would drag me around the world to a small town called Naraha in Japan. Naraha like many other small rural towns in Japan had first faced a magnitude 9 earthquake and then the tsunami on March 11th 2011. On March 12th many of the people of Fukushima region including the population of Naraha faced a yet another disaster. Together they would bring the total in excess of 200,000 refugees who were forced to quit their homes, lives, communities, towns and villages and instead take flight from the worst nuclear disaster on record.
Unsustainable limits in the face of overwhelming adversity
5 years later less than 40% of the refugee hold out hope of ever returning home. These towns now mostly devoid of there population have little of there former commercial or socialto attract their displaced communities to return home. Without their people returning to bring life back to these once vibrant culture rich towns and villages, what once was and what remains may be lost forever. Sadly, my lazy search had turned up the most extremes of adversity of countless communities pushed beyond their limits in the face of overwhelming adversity. Another question came to mind, in the face of such adversity, given such a challenge … it must be possible to rebuild … here was another problem worth fixing and the real question now would be how?
Innovating from Nenagh to Naraha …
I would like to suggest that Clonmel, Nenagh, Thurles, Carrick-on-Suir, Roscrea, Tipperary, Cashel, Cahir and Templemore are not unlike many other small rural towns in Ireland. Rural towns need to add individualised commercial and socialif they are to reverse the declining consumer trend and population. The Japanese small town communities of Futaba, Litate, Katsurao, Kawamata, Namie, Tomioka, Hirono, Okuma, Minamisoma, Naraha, Kawauchi, Tamura are today now facing the most extremes of such problems. This towns require an entirely new higher level of thinking if local economic and community development are to successfully take root, grow and become self sustaining into the future.
Rural Ireland may be on the decline to something resembling small town America, but rural Japan takes the shared challenges of buildinginto our towns and communities to entirely new levels. Each must address similar problems at different extremes if they are to sustain and grow. Perhaps these similar problems share similar solutions. Perhaps all may even share the same approach to solving such problems. How to deliver the needed commercial and social gain? How to realise new opportunities in the face of adversity and ignite new local economic development in our rural towns and villages. How to increase sustainable local employment? How to create greater local consumer foot fall in local town centre businesses. When taken as a whole, the sum of all job creation, business growth and community development and sustain a partnered commercial and social community for the greater shared good and mutual benefit of all?
More questions than solutions … are we really up to the challenge?
Solving problems worth fixing
From Job Seekers in county Tipperary and small Irish towns in declining rural communities to 200,000 displaced Japanese refugees fighting to rebuild their lives, families, communities and towns … it is apparent to me that each of these three problems are big problems worth fixing. A bigger problem maybe that they require an even greater fundamental transformational change in current thinking in order to successfully scale or navigate around such problems if real social and commercial sharedis to be realised.
Each problem will require new highlow waste problem solving solutions. As high commercially valuable solutions they must also be sustainable and substantive in social gain. They must also be simple, effective, efficient and respectful of the individual, community and planet. Such solutions must be , simple, sustainable, clean, respectful and social in word and deed. In short, the solutions will need to be frugally .
These three problems form the basis for a series of three posts. I hope you will join me on my research journey. Our destination is to better understand the scale of the problems challenging every rural commercial and social small town community.
These small towns can be found throughout rural Ireland, Japan and most countries around the globe including small town USA. How can they rise to the challenge and hear the call to action … “Collaborate to”? … unfortunately most may already be facing into a new future reality and greater challenge to “ or die!”.
Here’s the first of three thought challenging posts in this three part series called: