As one of the many great communities that exist beyond the Metro rainbow, Blackburn and its people can stand as a metaphor for 50% of UK economic growth. Blackburn is not even included in the imagination-stretching redefinition of the UK’s 15 Metro Areas – a definition that has Aldershot as part of London. A definition which city lobbyists would claim to ‘make up’ fully 61% of the economy.
Like the rest of the real 50% that’s neither ‘made up’ nor under Whitehall’s devolutionary policy spotlight, Blackburn’s community of enterprises and people may understandably be forgiven for echoing the words of Oliver Hardy – ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into’. But, in reality, the 50% are not alone: much of magic Metro-land also suffers from the same lack of attention to things that have turned out to be really rather important.
The last two weeks have been informative. But here’s a question. What theme links the Niagara Falls and a group of West Country MPs?
Yesterday ISP-review reported that a group of MPs, primarily from Devon and Somerset in England’s South West, have established a new All-Party Parliamentary Group that will investigate the roll-out of broadband.
Wandering the corridors of Westminster are many All-Party Parliamentary Groups that might regard this as their natural territory but, as we are constantly reminded, competition is a spur to innovation.
The new grouping may waste time by trying to pin the blame on the usual suspects, or, more positively, they might perhaps focus their minds on how to get out of this communications cul-de-sac. If reports are accurate, there’s a faint glimmer of hope: “it’s important to keep an eye on alternative network operators that can do some of the jobs”.
But that is merely a tactical reaction. Wake Up calls – Seriously Shocking Wake Up Calls – usually follow some undeniable crisis. The question, therefore, is whether the new group of MPs is driven to complain about inconveniences or recognize and demand attention to a real full-blown crisis.
But what has any of this this to do with the Niagara Falls? Another metaphor.
In the margins of the 2015 Global Summit of the Intelligent Community Forum in Toronto we took time out to visit. We transitioned from intense conference sessions led by mayors, civic leaders and progressive communities from around the world to standing right alongside this unstoppable force of nature.
Whilst many places struggle, the energy of leaders of the world’s foremost Intelligent Communities (note – much more than merely ‘smart’) clearly demonstrated how these places were succeeding, principally because they have held on to a truth that others have yet to fully grasp.
These inspired leaders have thought through the diverse impacts of living and working in a digitally mediated world. They see a world that demands much more than some short-term fix, ‘enough to be going on with’, or soothing reassurance that things will be OK if we muddle through.
They see all too clearly that we live in a time of ‘peak snake oil’: that like the unstoppable forces of nature, they, their people, their local economies, their cultures, must adapt to the new realities and not be satisfied by convenient short-term fixes. Fortunate indeed are these places that have leaderships that last way beyond electoral cycles and principles that were set down 15 or 20 years ago.
Standing alongside those thundering great falls, no one can deny their never-ending force. No one can dismiss this force as some impossible dream that we do not need, cannot afford, or could not cope with – leastways, maybe, perhaps, not just yet?
The West Country MPs, the good folks of Blackburn, the vast bulk of our economy, whether in or out of Metroland, even those technological romantics who imagine that maybe 5G will be a panacea (but overlook the need for backhaul to support thousands of 250m-radius cell sites), cannot ignore the reality that the future of our next and subsequent generations hinge on getting real; rejecting woefully inadequate technologies and a scary devotion to old models that have long passed their sell-by date.
Please don’t waste time on the blame game, on fixing holes. Patches are for pirates. Okay – it’s a pity the last three decades were wasted but the time is now to sit down, decide what is really needed in 2030 and set about delivering it a good deal earlier. It is far cheaper and yet far more valuable than you have been led to believe – if you (and your children) really want it.