Tuesday, September 27, 2022

How ‘managed retreat’ from climate change could revitalize rural America: Revisiting the Homestead Act

In 2021, the rural region of Calabria in southern Italy announced an innovative project to breathe new life into its small towns. He plans to offer young professionals thousands of dollars if they move and start a business, preferably a business that the community needs.

Northwest Arkansas has a similar program to bring new residents to rural cities like Springdale by offering $ 10,000 and a mountain bike. Lincoln, Kansas offers free land to remote workers who are willing to relocate and build a home there.

These efforts are using the growing culture of work from home to try to revitalize the declining rural communities.

They may also be key to tackling anticipated internal climate migration, as storms and wildfires, exacerbated by climate change, render parts of the country uninhabitable.

As professors and authors focus on sustainability, we see ways in which projects like these can help address both the loss of rural populations and the likely acceleration of migration from climate-insecure cities. While this proposal may not be viable for every community, we believe it will benefit many cities as they seek to reverse population decline and rejuvenate their economies.

Climate migration opportunities

Global climate change is an urgent problem. Millions of people around the world will be at risk of rising sea levels over the next two generations, while others will be expelled from regions with prolonged heat, drought and the threat of wildfires.

Since people are likely to move from high-risk areas to nearby cities, these cities are more likely to experience problems with their utilities, housing prices will rise, and labor markets will shrink, which could displace low-income residents.

This provides an opportunity for some rural areas to stimulate the resettlement of new residents.

From 1953 to 2003, the rural US population declined from 36% to 21%. By 2050, less than 13% of Americans will live in rural areas based on current trends. The decline of small-scale farms and rural production has reduced employment opportunities for educated youth, forcing many to leave. Today, four fifths of rural districts have fewer enterprises than in 2008.

In some areas, this trend has turned into a downward spiral. Population and business losses reduce the tax base, impoverish public services, make communities less attractive to new residents, and leave fewer opportunities for local children who wish to stay. This model can foster feelings of insecurity, political polarization, and a decline in confidence in democratic institutions in rural America.

With the right support, community leaders can revitalize their cities by encouraging people displaced by climate disasters to relocate.

The New Homesteading Movement

“Managed retreat” is a proactive concept: it involves rebuilding in safer locations before natural disasters strike. This includes rethinking, reconfiguring and refurbishing housing and commerce. It can also mean creating a network of vibrant small towns, especially those close to the amenities and services of a big city.

Successful recovery and renovation begins with a community-supported plan for the future, including housing opportunities in the city, commercial opportunities, and improved community services.

One way to get investors and future residents interested is to focus on green infrastructure powered by renewable energy sources. Areas rich in wind, sunlight and forests could update their zoning rules to encourage investment in renewable energy, along with non-industrial food production like organic farms.

The creation of high-tech greenhouses, such as greenhouses on agricultural land throughout Europe, for example, could create new jobs and ensure the production of fresh produce. The coal town of Morehead, Kentucky, for example, maintains a hydroponic greenhouse that currently produces nearly 3 million pounds of steak tomatoes a year.

The ability to work from home has made small cities more accessible to more young people.
Patrick Fraser via Getty Images

To support revival and smooth the transition for new residents, we propose that the federal government can fund a continuation of the American Homesteading Act of 1862, which encouraged people to settle and develop the American West.

This strategy will require new funding or reallocations from agencies such as the USDA, the Economic Development Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Housing and Urban Development Department to improve public services and stimulate trade and industry, and housing subsidies. …

The federal government’s efforts to expand broadband in rural areas can remove another barrier to attracting young workers who want to work from home, as well as entrepreneurs with the experience needed to ensure the sustained success of these projects and other new ventures.

If public assistance programs support the aspirations of local rural leaders, these efforts can be viewed with confidence, not suspicion.

It is a way for communities that have lost their tax base to hire new taxpayers. There can be downsides – change can be difficult for some communities, investments can be worrisome, and they may not work as quickly and efficiently as the community hopes. For rural settlements close to cities, there may also be concerns about gentrification if remote workers raise housing prices. But there are many communities, especially in the rural South and Midwest, that could benefit from the influx of new residents and skills, while resettling people can find safer new homes.

Meanwhile, local resettlement incentive programs expanded dramatically during the pandemic. Small American cities offer financial incentives for young people with special skills and families to relocate. Some of these include relocation costs, housing subsidies and a reduction in the burden of student loans.

No single rural center can provide all the benefits of large urban centers, but networks of vibrant cities can begin to compensate.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

Getting ready now

Climate change is posing unprecedented challenges to the mobility of the US population. At the same time, America needs to renew and transform its declining rural areas.

Waiting for a disaster to strike becomes expensive and chaotic. Revitalizing rural communities can now ease migration pressures and help rebuild shared and supportive forms of rural life. This could be a win-win proposition.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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