Hey city dwellers: distance is dead!

mathijs boumanEconomist Mathijs Bouman never got the memo that the city is the only place to be. But in his quiet countryside hideaway, he is not sorry one bit.

Distance is dead. It was killed by the internet. At the end of the ‘90s British journalist Frances Cairncross predicted the murder in her bestseller Death of Distance. Thanks to the internet location no longer matters, Cairncross wrote. No one will be stuck in traffic jams because there will be no need to get from one place to another. And no one will have to be stuck in a stuffy office in a polluted city. As long as you have a fast internet connection you can work absolutely anywhere.

Well, it convinced me. I went out and bought myself a nice house on a big piece of land at a considerable distance from the Noordzeekanaal. The internet is quick as a flash. This column arrives at the Financieele Dagblad in less time than it takes to hit the send button. When I’m called upon to do something for radio, Skype and a good microphone make it seem as if I’m in the studio. In case of breaking news I slip on my good jacket and hey presto I’m live on RTL-Z. Fast internet can put me anywhere I want to be.

It’s wonderful. Life is good in the Dutch countryside. The air is clean, local initiative thrives and my neighbour gives me a friendly good morning when I pop out to get my spelt bread (yes, we have spelt bread here) at the local bakery. Distance is dead and I’m doing a jolly dance on its grave.

But it seems I’m dancing alone. Sometime at the beginning of this century a collective memo went out to journalists, writers and other ‘creatives’ saying that the party of the future was going to take place in the city. Except I never got the memo.

The city is hipper and busier than ever and everyone wants to live there. That is where the good restaurants are and the best Belgian beers flow. It has the best Rembrandts and the most popular DJs. To young, and not so young, professionals the city has become the only relevant reality. The countryside is no more than a muddy stain between cities with crap 4G reception.

That is why houses in Amsterdam are already more expensive than they were before the crisis. The average house price is €297,000, higher than it ever was. In Haarlem prices are rocketing too. As the housing market in the big cities is heating up and small apartments are sold for ridiculous prices, farm houses in the country are patiently awaiting the first viewing of the year.

Us bemused country folk shake our heads at this new-fangled city silliness. First you fight for a couple of square feet to call your home, then you squeeze yourself into some trendy bar with all the other self-employed while some hip millennial knocks his frappucino all over your expensive Macbook. Listen city dweller: distance is dead! Really, that mud stain is not such a bad place to be. And no, I’m not selling. I’m staying.

Mathijs Bouman is an economist and journalist.

This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad