A friend of mine has an awesome website called 15 sunrises. His basic project is to travel around and take pictures of all sorts of ‘scapes (city, country, mountain, etc.) in all sorts of lights. He’s partial to sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset lights; but he’s no prude – he’ll shoot at other times too. Then he goes back to his apartment, gives the shots he likes a little copy and publishes them on his site. He hasn’t received an APOD yet, but these things take time.
My friend doesn’t have a car, so he has to get around on foot or use public transportation. Because he’s based in Prague, a city with a rather developed public transit system, this isn’t too much of a problem when he’s out snapping around his hometown’s cityscape. Problems start occurring, however, when he tries to get out of the city to shoot other ‘scapes.
Recently, he went up north to the Krkonose mountains that form the Czech Republic’s border with Poland. He was staying in a little cottage in a tiny town and every morning he woke up really early to get to this tiny town’s bus stop in order to take the bus up to whatever mountain perch he’d previously established possessed the correct coordinates to maximize the light or whatever of that morning’s sunrise.
The problem with remote bus stops in tiny towns in areas far from urban centers though, is that buses don’t come very often. And when they do, because they’re traveling rural routes, the drivers don’t necessarily stop at all the prescribed stops unless they think there’s a good reason to do so. To make a long story short, the bus was late and when it came to the stop my friend planned to get off at, it barreled (or more accurately, probably, lurched) right by it, like a hacking old woman with a walker lunging her way onto a tram. And because the views at the next stop were nothing like those at his desired stop (photographers are choosy humans), he missed capturing the sunrise that morning altogether.
Now you could say that at least he familiarized himself more with the vagaries of rural travel, learned a few lessons, and will be a better man for it. Or you could say that he ought to just sell a few more pictures and buy a car. But I would say that the poorly developed infrastructure and inconvenient and inefficient patterns it exhibits negatively affect the kind of stuff my friend can produce.
In dismal-science speak, his worker productivity goes way down when he leaves the city.
This isn’t to say that the very real benefits of living in rural areas don’t matter. They do. It’s nice to breath decent air, move around at a quieter pace and not suffer from the kind of terrifying bouts of agoraphobia that cities often induce.
But there are very real drawbacks to living in rural areas too. Without developed infrastructural systems, not only is it difficult to get things done, like projects not related to the land and stuff. It’s also very difficult just to get around. Regional, district and even more local fractionalizations exist in rural areas simply because traveling to different places isn’t easy.
But the same principle that applies to rural travel between towns also applies to inter-city travel within countries and between them. Without developed inter-city transit systems, local economies become more insular and productive factors become more immobile, which is another way of saying that worker productivity levels decline. But it’s not just about homo economicus, it also concerns homo reasonableness. As connections between people decline and as more and more fractionalization starts occurring, the political and social costs rise dramatically as well. Provincial attitudes prevail and the idea of the other becomes, as opposed to an intriguing attractive force, rather an irreconcilable and repellent notion to guard against.
While one solution to all this could be better roads and more cars, this is not a very good solution. A better approach would be to devote more resources to developing public transportation systems within and between proximate and even not-too-proximate cities. I’m not suggesting governments build high-speed rail systems to connect cities with tiny towns in rural mountain regions, I’m suggesting that programs for high-speed intercity rail would do well to go along with programs for rural area integration through more reliable intra-regional bus and rail networks.
If this were the case, my friend would be able to take more of the kinds of pictures he would like to take. And he would be a happier and more productive man because of it.