My neighbour Terry is obsessed. Hardly a day passes when he’s not fixated on what he’s earning, receiving and accumulating, and he asks everyone he knows – psychologists, lawyers, doctors and financiers – “how much is enough?”
To be honest, I think he’s got a narcissistic personality disorder characterised by exaggerated feelings of self-importance and a grandiose sense of entitlement. That said, his constant questioning got me thinking about how much is enough in the context of our cities.
How much is enough in your city? What defines enough in planning, designing and building where you live? What is enough in terms of transport planning, regulation and operations?
In my 2014 TEDx Kurilpa talk, Can you dream a new Australian Dream? I said that most of us feel entitled to have a big house plus at least one investment property, to live far from work, to drive to work, to never get stuck in traffic congestion, to have cheap fuel and low-interest car loans as well as salary-sacrificed car parking, and to have our opinions listened to. This entitlement obsession has led to the explosion of blame and confrontation that characterises comments in tabloid press forums and often defines development across our cities.
W. Brett Wilson, a best-selling author and one of Canada’s most successful businesspeople, says two specific challenges exist in our pursuit for success. Firstly, we’re unclear about our definition of success. In short, if we don’t know what success looks and feels like, we don’t know if we’re successful.
Secondly, research shows that we quickly acclimatise to our surroundings and soon become stuck on the treadmill; the thrill of today’s victories becomes the ‘status quo’ of tomorrow. That designer dress you worked overtime for soon gets pushed to the back of the wardrobe and the new sports car you were so proud of fast becomes just another way to get around town.
What is a successful housing development? What do great bikeways look and feel like? How much is enough?
1. How big is yours?
I’ve spent the last four months house hunting - an arduous affair tainted by egotistical estate agents, avaricious sellers and interstate investors. Fibreboard houses that look like they might fall over with the slightest gust of wind sell within hours to eager-to-renovate 20-somethings, while small two-up two-down starter homes with postage stamp-sized gardens next to mainline train stations in new urban development areas stand for months without a glimpse of interest. My friend Heather says most Gen Ys want their first home to be the size of the house their parents reside in after 40 years of full time work. Regardless of our social obsession with property prices and our blindness to the full costs of owning a home, I ask you: how much is enough with the size of our houses?
2. How cheap is mine?
A recent edition of The Courier Mail contained an extensive editorial on the conflicts between the taxi industry and Uber. The article said the Queensland Government is currently undertaking a review into the state of the taxi industry and Uber. While many say Uber provides work opportunities and lower transport costs in a state with high unemployment (more than 20 per cent among youth in regional areas) and low business confidence, others claim the taxi licence holders are losing their retirement security. How much is enough in terms of costs and profits?
3. How wide is yours?
It’s been proven that protected bikeways get more people cycling more of the time. Debate is rife in Brisbane about the advantages of BAZ (Bicycle Awareness Zones) and ‘painted’ bike lanes. Bikeways cost money and their merits are often called into question. Planners, engineers and decision-makers need to increase the quantity and quality of pre and post-construction data collected. They also need to develop a consistent methodology to justify the benefits. That way, the right infrastructure can be provided in the right places. How much is enough for bicycle lane widths where you live?
Across Australia, the objectives of our leaders seem to be short-term with a focus on being returned in the next election. If we really want our cities to be successful, we need to be like Terry and ask “How much is enough?” We need to define success and get off the ‘being stuck’ treadmill. We need to define how much is enough where we live, what we live in, how we accept (or reject) discourse and how we plan and design our bikeways and transport systems. That way, we might be content with what we’ve got and see success, rather than being obsessed with more.