When we talk about creative cities, we usually think of San Francisco, Seattle or New York. But the cases of Alston Moor and Fogo Island show us that small communities, proud of their heritage, can be equally creative.
In his book “The Rise of the Creative Class”, Richard Florida explored why some cities, such as San Francisco, Seattle or New York seem to attract creativity. Florida concluded that what distinguishes these cities from the rest is the combination of the “3Ts” of regional growth: Technology, Talent and Tolerance.
Attracted by a context of freedom in which they will be surrounded by other creative minds, creative people move to these cities where they’ll be able to develop their ideas. This, in turn, attracts innovative companies looking for employees, thus attracting more creative people, generating a cumulative process.
However, there is another type of creative “cities”, totally different from those described by Florida.
These other creative cities are small communities, relatively isolated from any major urban center, whose traditional economic base vanished long ago. While most of the communities under these conditions have disappeared, a few have survived thanks to the will of its villagers.
Let’s know the cases of Alston Moor (England) and Fogo Island (Canada).
The parish of Alston Moor, based around the small towns of Alston and Nenthead, with a population of 2,100, is one of the remotest areas in England.
The parish lost its lead mines in the 1950s and the largest employer in the area, a foundry, closed its doors in 1980. Over the years, many key services have been cut because of its small population and isolation.
For many other communities with a similar history, this has meant their disappearance. However, the residents of Alston Moor picked up the reins of their future creating community owned co-operatives or social enterprises to provide a better quality of life and services that would otherwise no be accessible by local people.
When BT (British Telecom) refused to supply high-speed broadband without government subsidies, Alston Moor set up Cybermoor, a social enterprise to provide broadband, and local labour dug up the roads to install the fibre cable needed.
And when the only shop of Nenthead closed, the villagers formed a community owned co-operative shop and sold 100 shared locally raising £10,000.
Nowadays, Alston Moor is home to almost 20 social enterprises, running their public toilets, snow plough, community gym or bakery, among others.
Fogo Island, with a population near 2,400, is the largest of the offshore islands of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
Dependent on the cod fishing industry for 300 years, in 1967 the islanders refused the government’s offer of resettlement to more accessible and economically viable centers, formed a cooperative and continued to fish for cod.
The Canadian government imposed a moratorium on cod fishing in 1992, which meant the closure of the Newfoundland’s cod fishery. However, thanks to their co-operative, the Fogo islanders adapted their business to crab, lobster and prawns.
In 2006, Zita Cobb, an island native who had taken early retirement from her post as a senior executive at a tech company, returned to Fogo and decided to launch an ambitious project of revitalization of the local economy, leveraging the natural resources and the cultural and heritage assets of the islands to attract geo-tourists.
With the help of the Fogo islanders, Cobb launched three projects: First, the Fogo Islands Arts Corporation, a series of residencies where artists are invited to spend some time in the island in self-directed programs. Secondly, the Shorefast Business Assistance Foundation, a micro-lending program to help create small business. And, finally, the Fogo Island Inn, a modernist hotel with a conference room, cinema, library and art gallery.
To know more about these three projects, Monocle has devoted two great films to Fogo Island.
Alston Moor and Fogo Island show us that, often, there is no need to seek outside to find the key to the growth of a region (or of a company or a person). Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being aware of our potential, value our strengths and promote them.