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From the “Just Enough Room Island” in New York to the world’s largest island, Greenland, there are uncountable inhabited islands spanning the earth in various sizes. For many, population decline or even depopulation is becoming a serious worry.
Today, an important question is: why is the number of people in these islands dwindling and what can be done to reverse it? Keeping island communities prosperous can be a vital part of national character and preserving unique cultures. However, not everywhere sees the importance with some governments continuing to encourage inhabitants of small island communities to abandon them and relocate to cities.
While there are disincentives pushing small island settlers away and preventing people from moving into these islands, some communities are already changing the narrative. Off the west coast of County Donegal in Ireland, Arranmore has written open letters to encourage people from other countries to move to the island. To achieve this aim, Arranmore has installed high-speed communication networks to provide advanced internet connectivity and is becoming a digital hub to serve as a co-working space for startups and freelancers.
In Scotland, Ulva and Eigg are tackling population reduction problem in a different way. These two islands have decentralized land ownership and making housing more accessible for their ‘citizens’ in order to give incentives to remain. These land reforms redistributing land back to local people and empowering them to make real change in their communities. With support from the Scottish Government-funded SEFARI Responsive Opportunity Initiative, the Islands Revival project is collecting stories of population turnaround in order to raise the profile of demographic recovery in island settings and to identify ways of ensuring that such developments are supported by island policy. These contributions will facilitate discussion between communities, local and Scottish Government, island businesses and international experts, culminating with recommendations regarding how public policy can best support island repopulation.
One possible way, as seen in Arranmore, is investment in modern communications infrastructure. By using digital technology to redefine what it means to work or live as a community, island communities around the world could develop virtual working environments that provide opportunities for local people, as well as attracting potential immigrants to find new homes and working environments.