Volume XI | Issue 2 | Fall 2011
This issue is about a century of rural -- looking back 50 years and looking ahead 50 years.

Moving into the future with a look to the past

Retiring director shares his predictions for our communities

It is hard for me to reconcile that at age 65 I’ve lived about one third of Oregon’s history since Lewis and Clark visited our north coast in 1805. Yet, it is rather easy to look back 50 years to 1961 when I was a freshman in high school. The Corvette sports car was hot. So was Elvis, although I preferred the Everly Brothers.

This issue is about a century of rural — looking back 50 years and looking ahead 50 years. Looking back is easy but looking ahead things get foggy. That is why our strategy at the Institute is to help communities build their capacity to be responsive — to respond to the future as it unfolds.   

10 years into this grand experiment of creating vitality

I can’t resist in this issue, my last as director of the Institute, peering into the fog and sharing some predictions. 

In 2030 the number of graduates of our leadership classes will exceed 20,000. They will be a thoughtful, civil voice in discussions regarding rural issues and policy. This network will coordinate across geography and interests, working together on what matters to rural communities. In 2061 the total number of graduates may exceed 50,000, and while many us will be gone, we will definitely have a critical mass to get things done. 

In 2030 this network will have built wide, inviting bridges to urban communities. I predict that this will be relatively easy as by 2020 another major philanthropy will invest in bringing leadership training to urban neighborhoods. By 2061 the rural/urban dichotomy will have given way to a fuller understanding that we are stronger together.  

By 2030 rural communities will be energy independent. The hundreds of dollars each household now pays for energy will stay in the community, creating local jobs. By 2061 rural communities will be a major supplier of renewable energy to adjacent urban areas.

By 2030 rural communities will have stronger, more resilient economies made up of many facets. They will keep key elements, such as their school, post office, store and clinic. The present communication challenges will become history, just as rural electrification was a challenge in the early part of the last century. 

Communities may have one or several big employers, but there will be many sources of income and employment, and communities will understand these in detail.

Business friendly

Communities will know how business friendly they are and how to promote entrepreneurship, particularly using local resources. The brain drain will be reversed as young people see a future in rural communities. By 2061 most rural communities will have a mature, productive and resilient economy.

And last, in 2030, rural communities will be deeply engaged in and responsible for their own place, their own natural environment. The dominance of outside agents — federal agencies, corporations, environmental groups and the courts — will give way to community-guided, sustainable use of local resources. The profound diversity of our landscape will be recognized, restored, protected and sustained by the people it supports. By 2061 communities will be very smart about and protective of their landscape.  

Rural communities have suffered many losses over the recent decades, but a rural renaissance is in the making. It is being driven by hundreds of good people, young and old, representing all sectors of the community, who have taken on the role of leaders and who, despite differences, help people pull together toward a common purpose. 

We are just 10 years into this grand experiment of creating vitality by building capacity through the Ford Institute. We are seeing early adopter communities move from vision to action. By 2020 we expect many communities to make measurable and important changes in vitality indicators, and by 2030 most communities will have made significant progress. In 2061 virtually all communities will have several decades of experience sustaining vitality; they will be great places to live and work and raise the next generation of community leaders. 

The next 50 years will pass just as fast as the last 50; it is profoundly rewarding to know many good people are working so hard to make their community more vital. 

I don’t like saying good-bye, so I will close with “See you later.”  

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