“Connectography” – Our Region’s Place in the World
Thrive 2055 invites you to take inspiration from a recent New York Times article by global strategist Parag Khanna, about what he calls, “connectography,” his method of looking at the world’s geography as a network of connected infrastructure.
As Mr. Khanna writes about his view of our changing global society, he identifies issues that Thrive 2055 knows will affect the future of our comparatively small tristate, 16-county region:
- Disconnection of small cities and rural areas from the national and global economy
- The need to develop our infrastructure beyond local and state boundaries
- The constraints put upon our local, state and federal governments to work on a regional level
He also identifies some of the same priorities for action that our planning initiative identified, specifically, linking our urban centers through better highways, railways and fiber-optic networks, as well as thinking strategically to place transportation and digital hubs in line with global and national corridors.
“To make these things happen requires thinking beyond states,” writes Khanna. “Washington currently provides minimal support for regional economic efforts and strategies; it needs to go much further, even at the risk of upsetting established federal-state political balances.”
Public-private financial partnerships, like some that are already happening in our region, are one of Khanna’s solutions for breaking the political chokeholds that strangle our country’s ability to improve our infrastructure.
A new Chattanooga-based business accelerator, Dynamo, is offering financial incentives for 10 new logistics startups to drive the Chattanooga region toward technological solutions for dangerous freight congestion on our aging and underfunded public roads.
Local developer John Thornton established his own internet service provider to connect his Jasper Highlands community across the Tennessee state line to the North Alabama Electric Cooperative’s new high speed fiber network. Thornton’s bold move bypassed political inertia in Nashville and he has expressed interest in expanding his services throughout Marion County.
Our region has already been identified as a leader in leveraging our natural treasures for economic development, and Khanna specifically mentions how better connectivity could position the entire Southeast as an agricultural and ecotourism hub.
“Upgraded transportation corridors between New York, Washington and Atlanta could finally lift Appalachia’s isolated and stagnant towns stretching from New York to Alabama by facilitating investment in farms and vineyards, food processing and eco-tourism.”
Khanna emphasizes that the United States has succeeded in the past to identify, fund and build networks that facilitate a prosperous future. “Congress was once a world leader in regional planning,” he writes. Khanna cites the Tennessee Valley Authority as a positive example of the “federal government’s thinking about economic development at continental scale.”
The 80-year-old big idea that became TVA now connects our 16- county region and beyond, and defines a way of life that we treasure. The Tennessee River Valley provides us with cheap power for home and industry, a vital commercial and conservation corridor and thousands of acres of protected lands on which to play.
As Thrive 2055 moves forward to connect our region to the rest of the world, engaging the voices of our communities to take bold actions and forge unique partnerships will always be our priority. By doing so, we hope that 40, 60 and 80 years in the future, our region will be one with clean water, verdant mountains, sustainable industry and an educated population that has access to assets that will ensure their prosperity.
Parag Khanna is a leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author. He is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He is also the Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a boutique geostrategic advisory firm, and Co-Founder & CEO of Factotum, a leading content branding agency.