Restoring Rural Communities Through Open-Air Coworking
By Andrea Paoletti , 07.30.12
All images copyright Andrea Paoletti
“What makes the reef so inventive in not the struggle between the organisms but the way they have learned to collaborate – the coral and the zooxanthellae and the parrotfish borrowing and reinventing each other’s work.” -Steven Johnson, “Where Good Ideas Come From.” What would happen if, instead of going to the city, people went to the wilderness to work? How much more could we accomplish in a situation of high technology yet low stress? By choosing to be alone and be
inspired by walking through the woods? Or by the ocean? Or in the middle of a field? In recent years in Italy, but also in other world contexts, we faced a depopulation of rural areas because people have abandoned nature, attracted by the strong image of the city, a symbol of wealth and opportunity. People left behind their knowledge of manual handcrafts to become individuals in large cities and take their place in a larger mechanism. There were times when this mass migration toward the cities seemed necessary for survival, but now we know it’s not the only option. With the birth of the Internet those in rural areas have been given the opportunity to stay in touch with the world and, now, it can open up infinite possibilities that had not been taken into consideration. What if we infuse a bit of humanity back into tech, getting entrepreneurs, designers, and coders out of florescent lit office buildings, and out in nature where we belong?
Evolving Our Heritage
Through e-commerce, handcraft skills have been saved from oblivion and become the focus of an international industry. People from distant lands can connect to any person or thing around the world, maintaining a sense of community and collaboration without moving. Through this connectivity we are able to enrich and observe from different perspectives, exchanging ideas and projects with those who are halfway around the world. If more informal coworking spaces were created in rural and natural settings it would generate a unique opportunity to connect social entrepreneurs with local communities. The ideas and projects created there will have a much better chance of making a direct impact on local rural communities.
These activities have a wide range of possibilities, from improving education to expand the rural market opportunities for local artisans and entrepreneurs, which will in turn improve living conditions and the economy of people living in deprived areas, returning increased value to these territories. Situating a coworking space on the edge between wilderness and civilization would create a unique opportunity for collaborating with local communities, allowing innovators to see the struggles and treasures of the local culture firsthand, and helping it to flourish. I would like to see rural Italian villages transformed, not just into working retreats, but oases where we can host creatives and involve local people to design a new future together, to give them the power of alternatives. It is important to focus the attention not only on preserving the past as it is, but on the new things that are possible now that people have access to the use of Internet and technology.
Could an inspiring and healthy environment encourage our best work? Live Your Adventure
Working in the wild would inspire a sense of adventure. “Learning by doing” is a concept that permeates the sharing economy. The adventure is a way to do something more than our normal, screen-facing routine. Life is transformed into an adventure when we are forced do something we never imagined possible. To live closer to nature allows us to experience new and unfamiliar things, and gives incentive to find new ways to look ahead, climb higher, and motivate ourselves. Can you imagine the unique challenge of hiking through bushes, fording a river, or traversing by zip line? It may seem like mindless physical activity, but we would take home the skills of leadership and courage that would allow us to follow their own path in the professional world. Participants would bond through the challenges, which require sharing and collaboration to make sure everyone completed the course safely. Adventure exists when there is commitment and commitment comes from unique experiences. Adventure always involves a challenge, including times when participants are in the balance between success and failure. Adventure is full of risks, but by gathering in rural areas we can create a safe place where everyone can talk about ideas, can share them, can go beyond their limits in an atmosphere of protection and community. This attitude would encourage people to travel to those places now almost abandoned, and then, it will permit to have local economic growth thus will sustain the community and local resources. Coworking can provide a haven for rural entrepreneurs, giving the opportunity to exchange knowledge, find systemic solutions and experience the true sights and sounds of a place in order to make it better.
More people are creating and developing projects that represent their values and passions rather than being just limited to a desk and a defined role. I think it is important to create a place where creative entrepreneurs can grow and be themselves 100 percent of the time, where they can explore and experiment without facing judgement about their “professionalism.” In these collaborative environments, we could recreate the “work day.” Users of these spaces would remain connected to the outside world through the Internet but at the same time have the opportunity to explore the nature that surrounds them. The direct observation of nature and the absence of division between free and working time will be an experiment to see how these relations can improve business, creativity and innovation. A few months ago I moved to Southern Italy, to Basilicata, because I have envisioned that the rustic Italian atmosphere could be the perfect location for something like that. Would you take this upstream path? Back To Our Roots
Ancient villages are at risk of vanishing because society view them as outdated. I think it is necessary to imagine new scenarios and destinations. These ancient places are territories rich in feelings and emotions, tastes and smells that exist nowhere else, and they have enormous potential if expanded through the use of new technologies. The village connected to nature can become a new reality for the workplace, opportunities, development and participation. In the past, the constraints of a poor economy forced people to use every resource available. This produced examples of extraordinary features and charm. Now, the current economic crisis is a fertile situation which brings together old knowledge with new technologies, and can create small earthquakes of creativity outside the city to give impetus to new forms of sustainable development. The connection to nature in a new way has a great importance because it will have a positive impact on the effectiveness of ideas and projects and also on the personal lives of people. It will lead to a more natural rhythm and a simpler life and it would help the creation of deeper and more collaborative human relationships. Facilitating collaboration and the open exchange of ideas between people who share values would strengthen and grow the workforce rather than competition.
I think it’s time to propose a new balance between humans, nature and technology. We must not think that development is linked exclusively to the growth of the GDP of a nation, we must also look at the quality of life. This vision of a "coworking holiday" would encourage integrated and sustainable local development. It will be a place to create experiences and have adventures in a slow environment, involving local people to work and build the future together. Each person will be a change-maker involved in the process, exchanging knowledge, learning new things, and finally returning home invigorated and full of ideas.