In this guest article, William van den Broek, the co-founder of the coworking space Mutinerie reflects on the importance of this phenomenon in France:
Since the 90’s, the rural population in France finally increased, after seeing a diminishing population for the past 150 years. The rise, which remains rather modest, regards more the outer fringes of cities, rather than true urban areas. But it has seemingly brought an end tothis inevitable process.
More than one out of 2 Franciliens would like to leave the Ile-de-France region. Half of them would like to live in a small or medium sized city (less than 100.000 inhabitants), 26% in the country and 18% in a big city. This phenomenon conceals different realities which, according to me, are insufficient when attempting to conclude a real urban exodus. Price increases in central urban areas, leads those to move towards the peripheral areas of cities, resulting in the closing of urban industrial sites. It also leads to an increase of those retiring in rural areas, or individuals who leave cities due to pollution and insecurity.
At the moment, it was not sufficient to just to observe movement from central to peripheral areas, when attempting to conclude a real urban exodus. The primary basis for rural exodus was economical and technological. After the industrial revolution, the need for a strong workforce increased. Salaries were dropping rapidly in the agricultural field, and exploding in the industry. To subsist, the farming population has moved toward to industrial sites, resulting in a high demand for said workforce.
Similarly, in order to know whether we are really facing a urban exodus, we have to ask ourselves these questions: are rural areas becoming economically more attractive than cities? What are the factors helping us to understand the foundation and the features of this emerging phenomenon? Of course, the truth is not often simple, and what follows does not pretend to apply as a general rule.
A digital urban exodus
It is almost commonplace to say that digital technology emphasizes teleworking and mobility. However, this is a central element to understanding urban exodus. More importantly, the digital revolution should be assessed as a real revolution and not just as a practical tool. We could first state that digital technologies allow us to work from any place. Technology now allows all workers to accomplish tasks with a computer or a cell phone, when just 15 years ago, it would have required a costly and heavy set of tools. In many activities, the internet provides people with access to millions of individual markets, whether you are living in Paris or deep within Ardèche...
Even in fields, which are not directly related to the knowledge-based economy, means of production are distributed. There are plenty of examples, such as the 3D printers, or other experiences relating to distributed production. Digital technologies allow a better use and accessibility of common goods through new collaboratives practices.
A second approach would be to observe, beyond technics, what digital technology could bring to open the boundaries of what is actually possible. Neolithic and industrial revolutions started with innovations aimed to make life easier. But eventually they started changing everything, such as our relationship to space, to others and to ourselves. They redesigned our thinking software.
In the same way as the industrial revolution moved the source of allowable values from agriculture to industry, the digital revolution has moved the values of industries toward intellectual production. However, intellectual production is not dependent on complex material infrastructures that we usually find in cities, but it relies more on a ecosystem, whether it is urban, rural or even virtual. The economic advantage of cities, which was decisive during the industrial era, now has a lesser meaning.