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The small cities and towns booming from remote work

The small cities and towns booming from remote work

Excerpt from bbc.com

At the tail end of a strict five-month-long lockdown in Santiago, Chile, a sprawling city of about seven million residents, Gonzalo Fuenzalida finally reached his breaking point with urban living. As the owner of Chile Nativo, a travel company that specialises in adventure, he’d always wanted his family to live closer to nature. So, in December 2020, they took a one-month exploratory trip to the woodsy resort town of Pucón, which lies in the shadow of a puffing volcano 780km (485mi) south of the Chilean capital. 

Three months later, Fuenzalida rented a house in Pucón near Lake Villarrica, where he and his wife now spend their free time biking, hiking and stand-up paddleboarding. Their seven-year-old son attends school in the neighbouring city of Villarrica, where Fuenzalida rents a two-metre by three-metre office to work. 

“In all senses,” he says, “our life has been better.” 

Of course, the move has not been without its challenges. The 56-year-old says internet speeds are nowhere near as fast as in Santiago, making it difficult to run his company from his home, which he says “lies in a black hole”. And he hasn’t exactly escaped from traffic, either, which can back up for hours during the area’s peak summer tourism season, especially now that the number of permanent residents has skyrocketed. 

Like Fuenzalida, more than 380,000 people migrated away from the Chilean capital during the first year of the pandemic. Most ended up in small towns and secondary cities like Pucón, with more space and greater natural amenities. It’s a phenomenon that has played out around the world, as workers shun major metropolitan areas – and their high costs of living – for less expensive rural areas that are more conducive to their lifestyles. 

Big-city problems? 

With the pandemic decoupling work and place, it’s now possible to live in areas that haven’t historically offered jobs for certain professionals. For some secondary cities and smaller towns, this presents an opportunity to reverse brain drain, counter aging populations and inject money into city coffers. 

But for others, this new trend has distorted housing markets, priced-out working-class residents and brought big city problems to small cities that were wholly unprepared for them.

 

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