Personal debt is one of the biggest issues facing our cities.

A new report by ASIC shows that Australians owe $45 billion in credit card debt, one in six are struggling with credit card debts they might never repay and almost 20 per cent of consumers are overwhelmed by their credit card debt load.

City planners generally plan cities based on natural resources, land-use zoning, predicted population growth and transport patterns. However, we live in cities based on status and stigma.

Status is everything and “status shopping” is shaping our cities. We are encouraged to buy bigger and better, to compare ourselves with others and to judge people on what they have and own. We’re urged to re-mortgage to buy a bigger house, to get finance for a newer car, to get cheap credit for an exotic holiday and to be obsessed with designer brands. We’re told to buy now and pay sometime later.

We’re constantly status shopping. We all want more. Our modern cities are places where we’re never satisfied. We get a four-bedroom house and 12 months later we’re searching for a five-bedroom house. For many city dwellers, life is a crazy and constant cycle of shopping, debt and stress trying to meet other people’s expectations.

Then there’s stigma. Society says you can’t be seen dead with last week’s, or even yesterday’s, products and services. You can’t live in the wrong suburb or drive the incorrect car.

So what can citizens and communities do?

Let’s not compare

The unhappiest people I know are comparing, judging, evaluating and analysing how other people are spending their money. Don’t compare; instead let’s share. Why do 400 people with 400 lawns, all in the same suburb, each own a lawnmower? Do we need 400 lawnmowers in a suburb? Why don’t we share? What is stopping you and others from sharing? What about if you borrowed the lawnmower once a month from the community Share Shed?

Let’s switch off the TV

Apparently, we see 5,000 advertisements every day telling us to buy. Some studies indicate that American corporations spend US$50 billion every year on television advertisements to convince us to shop and buy. On average we buy 27 kilograms of new clothes each year and then we only wear most items six times. We complain about congestion charges and council rates, but spend more money on take-away food and bottled water. What about if we all dedicated 30 minutes a month (the time of one episode of one TV show) to community projects or volunteering?

Let’s connect

Shopping is our short-term cure for boredom, loneliness, frustration and the lack of excitement in our life. The thing that’s needed most in this world is genuine care and kindness. Let’s connect with people we haven’t spoken to in a while. Reach out today. Call them. Check in. Invite them to do something with you. And then keep reaching out.

My friend Mel phones her friends every week. As a result, she says, her friendship have become stronger and stronger. Shopping and buying is a hobby and leisure activity in most cities, but imagine if you asked your friends, neighbours or co-workers to go to a free event in your city instead.

Perhaps it’s time to consider status and stigma in city planning? Let’s encourage and empower citizens and communities so that they don’t compare, they switch off the TV and they connect. That way our cities won’t be governed by status and stigma. What do you think?