Growing in a way that makes us happy

According to a piece in the Herald today, people with longer commutes are less likely to be healthy, happy or stay married.

The study found that if you commute for 45 minutes plus then your chance of getting divorced is 40% higher than for those with shorter journeys.

This is good news for me (and my wife) given that we live in central Wellington just 15 minutes walk from Parliament.

Also today the Auckland Transport Blog put up a piece showing a new tool that’s been created called Mapnificent which allows you to find out on google maps which locations can be reached within a certain time by public transport.

As the Auckland Transport Blog points out, it’s interesting to run the maps on Auckland. You can see that a lot of areas which are most inaccessible (e.g., Flat Bush) are the areas where there has been major development in Auckland over the last 10 years.

These two pieces made me think about the launch of a book I attended last week called Growth Misconduct: Can We Do Better on Urban Intensification?

The book was based on a range of presentations made in 2010 at a conference on sustainable cities and you can see more about what they covered here.

The presenters at the launch gave some amazing examples of medium and high density developments overseas which have lots of units, flats and terraced housing but still give the residents awesome facilities like private green space, water features, playgrounds etc

Overall, the presentations just reinforced my belief that we have to start thinking harder about how to grow our cities in ways that make us happy.

If there was an Urban Design portfolio I’d be keen to take it because I believe these issues are particularly relevant to people of my own generation. Many people of my age can’t afford the type of quarter acre block that the Baby Boomers aspired to and brought.

In particular, we have to remember that before encouraging new development on the fringes of our city (as the National government would like us to do in Auckland) we should put in place good public transport links first.

Otherwise we will just have more unhappy commuters clogging up our roads.

17 Comments Posted

  1. So is it stress? Or those dull moments that makes us unhappy? Regardless of those surveys, it’s our choice to be happy, it’s our choice to have a better relationships.

  2. Future housing options involving medium and high density dwellings should definitely factor in shared green/leisure space (including a communal garden) as well as adequate noise insulation and storage facilities. As a current apartment dweller I can confirm it’s very stressful – probably life-shortening and relationship-threatening – having to deal with noise in particular. Lots of other smaller issues add up – being able to smell other people’s cooking, not having anywhere to wash the car or hang the washing, lack of visitor parking spaces, etc etc.

    And we need to revolutionise the concept of work – many more of us could live closer to our workplace, or work 100% or partially from home, even have more than one ‘jobs’ in some instances as opposed to turning up for 8 hours but only really being productive some of that time (through not fault of our own, that’s just what the job entails). One day people will look back and shake their heads in wonder at how long it took us to commute to the same place to do the same thing every day.

  3. I feel a great deal of pity for Mrmr2guy, who “used to commute … between Cambridge and Hamilton”.

    I hope you have found somewhere nice to live and work.

  4. the best way to handle auckland traffic is to constantly ‘let/wave people in’..

    ..the goodwill you engender will sustain you thru the trip….

    ..and far outweighs any marginal xtra time in traffic..


  5. I used to commute 30 minutes each day between Cambridge and Hamilton, loved it, nice way to chill out and unwind after work. Then again I was driving my hotted up Jap sports car so it was a joy to drive.

    Sitting in Auckland traffic might be a different story.

  6. Sam askes “Why are you insisting people have to fit their lives into the current business-controlled labour model? Why not insist that business should move the jobs to where the people are, rather than vice versa?” and the reasons are clear.

    Many employers are focused on control of their employees, in the misguided beleif that control = productivity. Regretably many unionists also by into this model when they talk about demarkation, work-life balance, and breaks/holidays.

    When both parties look at productivity and control as the end-game, then these issues simply fall by the wayside.

  7. Following this arguement, public transport proponents ar seekening to make people unhaaply and divorced and to have reduced family time?!?!?!

    (I can drive to work in 10-15 minutes door-to-door, but a bus trip takes the best part of 40 minutes with a 500m walk at one end)

  8. Moving jobs is also a whole lot greener than moving people, regardless of the transport choices available.

  9. Dunno – I found the 45 minute commute on the tube in London frazzling and irritating, whereas I find 45 minutes on a train into Wellington quite pleasant.

    But the whole debate around transport and urban intensification bugs me. Why are you insisting people have to fit their lives into the current business-controlled labour model? Why not insist that business should move the jobs to where the people are, rather than vice versa?

  10. Also today the Auckland Transport Blog put up a piece showing a new tool that’s been created called Mapnificent which allows you to find out on google maps which locations can be reached within a certain time by public transport.

    Except that it doesn’t support Internet Explorer.

    In terms of Gareth’s post, it would be interesting to see what divorce rates are like in places such as Masterton, Upper Hutt and Paraparaumu, as well as places such as Gosford, Wollongong, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast across the ditch

  11. I agree about the rigour of scientific reporting in the HErald (poor) but I have seen some other studies showing that people with long commutes are less happy. In fact, it’s interesting, when they go to buy a house people consistently tend to over-estimate how much happier having a big house will make them. Whereas they consistently under-estimate how much unhappier having a long commute will make them. It’s to do with the fact that people are swayed more by what they can see in front of them which is the physical size of the house. But in reality when you have a bigger house you might only use that extra room once a year. But you have to commute almost every day.

    The other thing about commuting that makes people particularly unhappy is that the time taken changes from day to day and it is outside people’s control. Psychologically we don’t deal well with unpredictable sources of unhappiness. People would probably be more happy if their commute consistently took 45 minutes/day rather than varying between say 20 minutes and 1 hour. The constant change of time makes it hard for you to accept and expect it will happen.

  12. Gareth – that’s awesome.

    If I want my marriage to last, instead of having to buy roses and taking my wife to dinner, I can just buy a faster car to cut my commute from 48 minutes down to 40 min — awesome!!!

    I didn’t know if was so easy.

  13. More scientific rigor and skepticism needs to be taken, mainstream media has a habit of not citing any sources, how can I verify this for scientific flaws and what not if they don’t cite a source? please take these articles with a grain of salt ( in reference to the herald’s article )

  14. The Auckland Plan opened with a declaration of love for its children and the environment, but went on to mention substantial rezoning of rural land in Drury as well as to the west and north. It admitted elsewhere that it was likely that people would have to commute further. A likely conclusion is that these set out the city’s new boundaries and that the area within will inevitably be greyed in.

    I can think of nothing worse to inflict on children, especially in low socio-economic households, than forcing their parents to be absent due to hours spent traversing a single storied suburban sprawl.

    Also, quite what the Drury rezoning, a Stevensons initiative, is doing in the Auckland Plan when they hadn’t even lodged the rezoning application at the time of publication tells you everything you need to know about democracy in the Supercity.

    Thanks for a great post, Gareth.

  15. The quarter acre block had a very good reason for being but that reason has been forgotten and replaced. The original reason was so that families could supplement their diet by having a large enough area to grow food on. The replacement reason seems to be More land = Good without any reason to have that land.

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