August 1, 2004

‘Quality of Life’

While not about planning, designing and building livable communities per se, I'd still like to note a fascinating New York Times/International Herald Tribune piece about the differences between European and American views of vacation and leisure time (this version on may be available longer without having to pay).

"Some economists and European officials argue that, rather than reflecting a failure to catch up with its more industrious competitors because of faltering productivity growth, Europe's more modest income level mainly reflects policy choices that have tended to put a premium on leisure and equality at the expense of greater wealth," the article says.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, Western European productivity growth outpaced that of the United States in the last 30 years. In some countries, including France, productivity now exceeds that in the United States. . . .

Europe has less child poverty, a lower incidence of illiteracy and a smaller prison population than the United States, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics show. Europeans have a slightly higher life expectancy and can hope to spend more of their old age in good health than Americans.

According to surveys by the World Database of Happiness, which is run by professor Ruut Veenhoven at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, residents of many European nations are more satisfied with their lives than residents of harder-working nations, like Japan, where people have been clocking even more hours than in the United States."The main difference from the U.S. is that we spend more time enjoying life," said Jorgen Ronnest, director for international affairs at the Danish Employers' Confederation, which represents about 30,000 companies.

"And if you look around, maybe we don't need more refrigerators and more cars."

""Our goal is not to grow as fast as the U.S. or anybody else, but to do what we need to protect our economic and social model," Joaquin Almunia, European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, told the International Herald Tribune. In other words, the article notes: Economic growth is seen as a tool, not an end in itself.

That is a crucial issue to consider about economic development. "Growth" as a concept is neither good nor bad. It depends on what type of growth: Smart growth? Sprawl? Do the additions give positive benefit to the community, negative impact to the community or a net draw?

Growth should be a tool in shaping the kind of community that offers a sense of place and neighborhood to residents, that is an enjoyable place to stroll, shop, live, work and BE instead of, well, the worst of Route 9. It should not be something we either always embrace or always oppose.

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