Dr Frank Crowley: 'Focus must be on supporting grassroots initiatives to help towns left behind'
The dominance of the large city is a trend taking place across the world.
As cities become the dominant centre for economic activity, rural areas, towns and small cities are being left behind, and these spatial differences have been credited with the rise of right-wing political movements.
In this context, we wanted to identify the spatial impact that future technologies may have on local and regional places in Ireland to inform policymakers.
Our report, co-authored with Dr Justin Doran, on 'Automation and Irish Towns: Who's Most at Risk' finds that two out of every five jobs across Ireland are at 'high risk' of automation.
By high risk, we mean a greater than 70pc likelihood that the job will be automated. We examine the impact of automation across urban areas in Ireland.
Our study finds that the likelihood of jobs in towns being automated is primarily explained by population differences, by education levels, age demographics, the proportion of creative occupations in the town, town size and differences in the types of industries across towns.
We find wide differences between the average numbers of jobs at high risk of automation across towns, from a low of 26pc to a high of 58pc. In addition, the analysis found that many high-risk towns have low-risk nearby towns and many low-risk towns have high-risk neighbours.
The analysis also found that there are some concentrations of lower-risk towns and, separately, concentrations of higher-risk towns.
What should we do about this risk? The complexity of the patterns means a localised, place-based, bottom-up approach to policy intervention is needed in Ireland.
It is all about sensitive place-based policy. This means policy that is bottom-up rather than top-down and the old policies of roads and hard infrastructure will not work at mitigating the risk.
We need to change the 'begging bowl' approach to policy intervention and provide more autonomy to local regions to take the initiative. Our focus needs to be on supporting grassroots initiatives, with a particular emphasis on skills and education and on activities that will unlock untapped economic potential.
Dr Frank Crowley is an Economist in the Spatial and Regional Economic Research Centre, Cork University Business School, UCC.