Micro Communities and Free High-speed Internet
The ECDC (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control) and the WHO (World Health Organization) are promoting a shift towards micro communities in their report of the "Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the EU/EEA and the UK" of 23rd April 2020.
As stated there, "the promotion of ‘micro- communities’ will allow for work to be conducted and for social interaction to promote wellbeing, while still limiting the spread of infection."
During the 2019 UK’s election campaign, Jeremy Corbin urged for a full wide implementation of a free high-speed internet distribution of all areas of the country. This was compared to what happened 100 years ago with the spread of the electrical network. But I personally hope this time it goes faster, as back in 1882, when the first electric lights came into the parks of Manhattan, it took almost 50 years so that in 1925 half of all homes in the U.S. got electric power.
A free high-speed internet will create a basic structure for a rebirth of micro communities outside cities. The 2019 Guardian's article on this matter was pointy in recalling that access to information is fundamental to democracies and to a fair society. Not only access is vital to our democracies but the hunger for data is growing. From 2018 to 2019, the average household consumption of gigabytes increased 26%.
Our elected governments must guarantee that, like water, corporations do not take advantage of this process in favour of a paying elite but it guarantees the ability for all to be an active member of our societies.
As stated in the 2004's “Government’s Resolution on Finland’s National Broadband Strategy” document signed by the Minister of Transport and Communications Leena Luhtanen: “The Government will support and facilitate the introduction of high-speed telecommunications by businesses and households across the country. The Government’s broadband strategy is ‘technology neutral’, in that it does not favour one particular technology over another, but instead promotes competition among them and their complementary use.“
Now 16 years later in 2020, and writing this from Hyrsylä in Lohja, 50 km away from Finland's capital Helsinki, there is still no high-speed connection available (download speeds of at least 25 Mbps) in this and in so many areas of the country. None of the current providers offer more than around 18Mbps in this area. If we do actually speed up the implementation of high-speed internet access to all areas, especially rural ones, we will likely decrease the ongoing urban migration and increase micro-communities the WHO is in support of. Cities are the biggest energy consumers and polluters and they are in heavy pressure to grow before they can even tackle the existing problems. It is urgent to bet on rural micro communities such as the one in Hyrsylän Koulu in Finland, the pilot project of the Gamified Cohousing.
The ongoing covid-19 pandemic is telling on how the shoe-box strategy of living in small apartments in cities, often detached from neighbourhood community support, leads not only to a faster spread of viruses but also likely to an increase of mental related disorders such as depression, worsened by enforced quarantine. This has been noted in the large amount of articles being published during March till May of 2020 on how to cope with depression and loneliness and with data on a 30% rise of divorces during this period of time in comparison to previous years in Finland.
Many designs will come out selling a prevention pill for further pandemics, specially for cities. Indeed architecture can be a facilitator of these but it is at the end a business. I believe micro-communities are our best response to slow-down urban migration and increase our societal resilience. In a seminal 1986 study by McMillan and Chavis, they identified four elements for the "sense of community":
integration and fulfillment of needs,
shared emotional connection.
These points are likely to be enhanced through that one single policy of building up a free high-speed internet connection, nation-wide. If we bet on architect's extravaganzas we are likely to end up with these kinds of solutions as in this building in Zaandam: great for an instagram stacking up of dutch vernacular architecture, but voided of any real content towards communal living.