A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Green Christmas

Having just returned from a hike around our woodland trails, the first at this time of year without snowshoes that I recall, and all signs of previous snowfall totally disappeared I believe it is indeed going to be a green Christmas here. The bush is rather drab this time of year but the green of the mosses and lichens stand out in stark contrast to the browns of the fallen leaves and the bare trees and the bright overcast skys allowed for some really nice pictures.

Green, brown or white I wish all my readers a Very Merry Christmas and a Trouble Free New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rural Counties & Districts Demographics

In considering what information should be included in any online Rural Network I thought that any county or community pages on such a web site should contain the basic demographics of the area. In that the Network we are considering is aimed at rural communities I thought that for any given County that population figures should be broken down into rural and urban (as defined by Statscan). Thinking that these numbers should be easily available from Statscan, especially given that they have just announced that all data will be 'free' I went looking, but after much digging could find no such breakdown.
I can get the numbers of urban verses rural for all of Canada or for any Province but I am danged if I can find it for Counties or other 'census areas' . Much information is available in the 'Community Profiles' tables, population, area & every thing from income stats to type of housing and much more is all there, but not a break down by rural or urban. It must be available somewhere, after all I must presume when we refer to a 'largely rural riding' or county it is based upon the numbers not just a wild guess. One could I suppose figure it out by taking the total population of the county and subtracting the population of those towns or 'urban' areas with its boundaries but this would involve both local knowledge and viewing, and extracting data from, many separate tables.

There is, I believe, a way for researchers to query the raw data and produce a customized report but so far as I can see this not only involves large downloads of data (not a option on limited connections) but is, at this point, still being charged for. The cost indicated for such data download is considerable $35, $50 or more per chart, we wonder if Statscan is going to survive what with budget cuts AND, if the promise to cease charging for data includes such downloads, the loss of other income. Is this a move by a government, now renown for its disdain for scientific data and those that produce it, to weaken the availability and viability of such data. Guess I am getting cynical, I wonder why!

So my little research project to document the percentage of rural & urban population in each Ontario County has gone down the tubes....... unless someone can point me to a source for this information or has previously extracted from Statscans raw data.
How about it, anyone have any idea where such data may be found on line without cost?.

UPDATE – Ok I have found the data for 2006 here. Found by a google search, still dont know why it was so hard to find directly on the statscan site!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Collaboration and Communication

Regular readers will know that I try and keep an eye on rural issues, reports & initiatives and that I do so largely via information available on the internet, I had though until now that I was reasonably up to date with such things. I was wrong! In communicating with the RVN and with Samara (the democracy research folk) I became aware of The Rural Ontario Institute and this in turn lead me to their resources and links pages where I found that not only are there more than 100 Rural Research Centers, Networks & Organizations listed there (with links to each) but that there are also dozens of 'reports' on rural issues listed that I did not know about or have not read.

My first reaction was 'Thats great, so many folks trying to get a handle on rural issues' but then after a little while and visiting a few of the links I began to think 'How is it with all these organizations and reports that rural communities are still going down the tubes, how is it that rural issues are still all but ignored by upper levels of government?' Of the (admittedly very small percentage) reports that I have read and organizations that I have checked out I see very little difference in either their objectives or their conclusions, each has a slightly different perspective or focus but the similarities are striking. In fact the words Voices, Vision, Collaborate and Communicate appear in so many of the report titles and organizational outlines that its easy to get mixed up between them all, but are those latter two things happening? At this point I am not convinced of it!

The other thing that struck me was the difficulty of 'engaging' the rural community at large in the studies and indeed making the rural population aware of such things. Many of the reports are based upon 'focus groups' and meetings held in a very limited number of (usually small urban) locations, I wonder then exactly how representative such studies are, not that I substantially disagree with the conclusions and recommendations of the few that I have read. It is for this reason that I believe we must engage rural communities on line where location is less of an issue.

Folks that have read some of my other posts here (and elsewhere) will know that I think that the internet has a immense potential to both enhance and develop business opportunities in rural Canada but to also to allow rural residents to interact without the need to travel, often considerable distances, to attend meetings or have input into community initiatives or decisions. It is by no means the magic bullet but is, I believe, going to be a major key in maintaining our rural towns, villages and farms as viable entity’s and not just bedroom communities for some large urban center upon which we are increasing forced to rely upon for jobs & services.

With that in mind here are a few extracts from some reports and my thoughts on this specific subject..

I could go on about the availability and cost of High Speed Broadband Internet in rural areas (and that is still a major issue in many areas), how it is now almost essential for any business to be 'connected' and how so many 'service' industries with the right infrastructure no longer need to be physically located in those expensive urban office towers but, in this post at least, I will finish up by concentrating on the possibility’s within the social and community aspect of internet communications.

First cost & affordability
“It has been noted in several circumstances that an acceptable price for high-speed residential connectivity is less than $50 per month, any higher than that and the demand for services falls off dramatically. The economics of supply and demand is such that suppliers (ISPs) are not willing to supply the service in some areas as their costs are greater than that $50 / month maximum fee clients are willing to pay” (And many charge additional fees for usage volumes) “We should not assume that once broadband is available, users will be able to afford the service.”

The vast majority (97%) of households in the top income quartile, those with incomes of $87,000 or more, had home Internet access. This compares with a rate of 54% of households in the lowest quartile, those with incomes of $30,000 or less.” This report also says that those outside major population areas have 10% 'less access', with 1 in 5 of the Canadian population 'not having access from home'!

Secondly, how are we going to get the rural community, those that are on line, to use it as an alternative means of communications within both the local community and the broader rural population. There seems to be a real reluctance by many, both urban & rural, to 'interact' on line, thousands use it to get information but relativity few join in on online forums and discussions. Why is that, limited forum choices, technically challenged, privacy issues, or simply not interested? I dont know, but I do know we must 'get over it' and start communicating with each other if we are to save both our rural communities AND our democracy!

The use of community portals has been identified as being an important contributor to the local economy. These ‘portals’ should be set to view local stores, organizations and businesses with the information well-organized and up to date. In the instance of portals, the responsibility for updates may have to be delegated to an individual / organization.” Which is exactly why I am so interested in the RVN initiative in that one of their goals is to (provide / develop?) a “Web portal designed to foster a living ‘Rural Voices Network’ to facilitate community engagement and collaboration through online forums.”

In my view the provision of an over arching web site providing a set of pre formated information pages and open interactive forums for rural Ontario with the availability of separate but integrated pages available for those communities who wish to join would go a long way to knit both the local community and the whole of rural Ontario together. A one stop 'Portal' for rural Ontarian's and possibly in the future for all rural Canadians.

This post already being rather lengthy I will expand upon MY vision of how such a site could be arranged and what it should incorporate should such web space become available in future posts.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rural Voices – Questions.

A month ago I wrote about the Rural Voices Network and the efforts to to understand why and how people participate in the common life of their communities. With all but one of the public forums now behind them they have published the list of questions on which these forums were based at their On Line Forum. Unfortunately these are not publicly viewable unless one registers and logs on (something which I urge rural ontarian's interested in community building to do), however in the interests of creating a little more response to this initiative than currently seems to be the case I have published those questions and my responses to them below.
Not you typical response I would suggest, are you more involved or have a differing opinion? Why not register and have your say. Or, of you prefer let us know your thoughts in my comments section!

Important note:- Since writing this piece the questionnaire has been removed from the forum, no response has been received from RVN as to why this is so or if it will be reinstated. Never-the-less I will publish it here along with my intended responses for the readers interest.
UPDATE:- I am pleased to report that the forum questions are now posted in a publicly viewable area of the forum at http://ruralvoicesnetwork.ca/forum/questions/

I am deeply concerned with the viability of rural communities, family farms and other rural enterprises across Ontario & Canada.

Almost none physically, I try (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep up with local issues and maintain a blog about local & rural issues.

  1. Imagine you are in an empty room, and the closer you stand to the middle represents more active participation in your community. Standing by the outer periphery represents less active participation. Your can also move around the room if you choose. WHERE WOULD YOU STAND TO REPRESENT YOUR CURRENT LEVEL OF PARTICIPATION, AND WHY?
I have my back against the wall, most probably near the corner! Why? Lack of alternate methods of participation.

  1. Now move to where your desired level of participation is, given all limits of your current circumstances were removed. WHERE ARE YOU STANDING AND WHY?
About half way towards the center of the room with occasional forays to the center..

Maintaining local services both governmental and commercial, protecting the rural lifestyle, protecting land use & stopping misuse.

Enabled by knowledge of local issues via radio, newspaper, mailed flyer or internet.
Barriers many, include-
No local newspaper (or news sheet) reporting council or social meetings or issues
Minimal local information available via internet
High speed internet either unavailable or very expensive in many rural areas.
Minimal feedback mechanisms except by travel to meetings.
Reluctance to travel to meetings, particularly evenings and nights.
Few means to communicate easily with other residents on common issues.
Personal reluctance to leave our rural 'retreat' for anything less than really good reasons.
NOTE (Armchair critic? But does that make my input less valid to the community? Catch 22 – you cannot be involved in the community if you do not know what is going on and you cannot know what is going on unless you are involved with the community!)
7. Identify an issue, enabler/barrier, or theme that is affecting your community and/or interests you personally.
Not being one to join clubs, socialize outside of close friend and family or attend meetings it is difficult to even hear about things or organizations that may increase my participation. As one who obtains 90% of his information either via local radio (from city 25 miles away) or the internet (very little LOCAL information available) I feel communication is the key to involvement in rural areas (particularly outside of settlements or villages) where one rarely meets other than ones close neighbors informally. I strongly believe that rural communities can be brought much closer and lively discussions, notice of social and community meetings, local governance issues etc can be greatly enhanced by the increased use of internet tools. The use of a local web site / forum / blog / public space where residents can both read and opine about local issues would in my opinion then foster more face to face meetings, be they formal at one of the ever decreasing 'parish halls' or informal at local residences. Many citizens seen reluctant to embrace this method of communications, why is that?
In my view we need a common platform 'one stop' web site for both individual communities and rural communities in general where communities and rural individuals can interact without the need to travel (in this riding) 50km or more to attend meetings of interest.

Unfortunately this project in and of itself is demonstrating all to well the difficulties of communicating with rural citizens, with a google news search turning up but one news item on the recent public forums and with the online forum seeing but 2 or 3 citizens participating thus far. This is hardly unexpected but is a great disappointment to me, I do hope that the mail out survey which this initial process is intended to produce receives more attention.